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Causes of Diabetes

Diabetes was once considered a malady of the affluent society. It is no longer so. Today, diabetes makes no distinction between the rich and the poor. It strikes men as well as women, young as well as old, urbanites as well as villagers.

All the causative factors of diabetes have still not been discovered. Yet, the known factors have been discussed below:

Heredity : A reference to the familial nature of diabetes can be found in ancient medical texts too. Of the total diabetics, more than 46 percent give a family history of the disease.

There are varied opinions about how parents pass on this disease to their children. But none has been able to fully explain how heredity actually acts.

Till recent past, it was believed that the hereditary character of diabetes follows the principles of renowned geneticist Mendell, i.e., (1) If both the parents are diabetics, all their children get the disease, (2) If one of the parents is a diabetic and another is a diabetes-carrier (one who does not have the disease, but can transmit it), half the number of their children get the disease, (3) If both the parents are diabetes-carriers, one fourth the number of their children get the disease and (4) If one of the parent is a diabetic and other is healthy, their children remain free from diabetes.

However, detailed studies and surveys have proved the fallacy of the belief. It is often seen that children of diabetic parents are healthy in every respect. In identical twins one child may have diabetes and the other may remain free from the disease. Such diabetics are also seen who have no family history of the disease.

Some researchers believe that diabetes develops not because the person has inherited defective chromosome from his parents but because he has not received that chromosome from his parents, which imparts resistance to this disease.

In short, it can be said that even though hereditary factors do play a role in the development of diabetes, to what extent and in what way these factors act is still a mystery.

It can be said that hereditary factors can become effective only when certain other exciting environmental factors like obesity, faulty dietary habits and inadequate physical exertion are at work.

Obesity : It is said that, in diabetes, heredity loads the cannon and obesity pulls the trigger'. This saying clearly indicates the close connection between diabetes and obesity. Overweight persons become easy victims to diabetes. Studies have shown that 60 to 85 percent of diabetics are overweight. When the second world war led to a decrease in the average weight of people, the incidence of diabetes also came down dramatically.

The more the obesity, the greater is the mortality rate due to complications of diabetes.

Bodyweight which is 30 % below the ideal is an almost certain guarantee against diabetes. It is not an exaggeration to say that, 'Diabetes is the lawful wife of obesity'.

Incorrect dietary habits : Food can maintain or save life; it can destroy life as well. Proper food serves the purpose of medicine while improper food works as poison and causes disease.

We may take pride in calling ourselves highly civilised; but we have started to flout all the norms about the quality and quantity of food. Attracted to material pleasures, we have become slaves to our tongues. We have deleted bran from the flour; we mostly eat processed foods and refined sugar. In short, we have drifted away from mother nature, thereby initiating a rise in the incidence of diabetes. This fact is applicable to all the developing countries which have been influenced by western culture and lifestyle. According to a survey, diabetes was rare in the natives of iceland and canada, a few years ago. With the advent of processed and junk foods in these regions, the incidence of diabetes shot up within a very short time.

By offering chocolates, cakes and icecreams too often to our children, by giving the refrigerator a place in our homes and by attending parties every other day, we in fact invite obesity and diabetes.

For the origin of diabetes, excessive food is as much to be blamed as improper (i.e., refined and processed) food. The body has to produce more digestive juices and insulin to digest excessive food. Under the pressure of such excessive work-load, the pancreas gland weakens and ultimately breaks down, leading to diabetes. A philosopher has rightly said that, 'Very few people die of starvation; the rest die of overeating'. It would not be an exaggeration to say that we dig our graves with our teeth.

Many a renowned researcher holds the belief that a deficiency of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) in our diet may also be a cause of diabetes. Lack of Vitamin B6 causes the transformation of tryptophane (an amino-acid present in our diet) into xanthurenic acid which harms the beta cells of the pancreas to cause diabetes. If experimental animals are fed with a vitamin B6 deficient diet, pancreatic destruction starts within 48 hours and symptoms of diabetes show up. A similar result can be obtained by injecting xanthurenic acid into the bodies of animals. If the pancreas is not completely damaged, large doses of vitamin B6 can reverse the symptoms of diabetes. Experiments have also shown that treatment with the mineral magnesium too produces similarly celubrious effects on experimentally damaged pancreases.

Consumption of food containing excessive animal proteins, saturated fats and calories also stimulates the production of xanthurenic acid inside the body. A similar effect is produced by the penicillin group of drugs.

Some researchers believe that diabetes arises not because of inheriting defective chromosome but because of genetically determined excessive requirement of vitamin B6. Of course, further research and investigations are called for to validate this belief.

Inadequate physical work : Because of the industrialisation, man has drifted away from physical labour. Sedentary life, too, plays an important role in the origin of diabetes. During physical work, muscles use up a lot of glucose present in the blood. Consequently, the work-load on the pancreas is reduced. Moreover, physical labour also prevents or reduces obesity, which is intimately connected with diabetes.

Viral infection : A possible role of some viral infection as an aetiological factor for diabetes is also being considered by many a scientist. Some children have been seen to contract diabetes after suffering from mumps, a viral infection. The viruses destroy the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas. Besides, the antibodies produced by the body to fight the virus also attack the beta cells and aggravate the disease.

Effects of certain hormones : Some harmones produced in the body have an action opposite to that of insulin, i.e., they increase the amount of glucose in the blood. Such hormones include glucagon, cortisone, growth hormone, adrenaline and thyroxine. If the secretion of these hormones is excessive, the effectiveness of efficiency of insulin decreases and blood glucose level rises.

Side-effects of certain drugs : Long-term use of certain drugs like cortisone (used for asthma, respiratory diseases, arthritis and skin-diseases), contraceptive pills and thyroid group of drugs can also produce diabetes by harming the pancreas.

Other illnesses : Acute pancreatitis, a heart attack or some other illnesses may precipitate diabetes. This fact is more applicable to persons who are carriers of diabetes or who have a family-history of diabetes. In such persons, an acute illness may unmask latent diabetes. Acute pancreatitis is an important cause of diabetes in Kerala and South Africa.

Psychological factors : Acute emotional upset, shock or mental stress may unmask latent diabetes. However, this factor plays a greater role in enhancing established diabetes than in actually causing this disease.

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