Is Diabetes Genetic?

  • 2 weeks   ago

Do you have someone in your family with diabetes and wondering if it is hereditary? Well, genetic factors indeed make a person more susceptible to diabetes; however, having a relative with diabetes doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll have it too. There are different types of diabetes, each having its own prominent risk factors. 

In some cases, like in type 2 diabetes, lifestyle plays a significant role, and early screening can help prevent or delay the progression of the disease. Moreover, identifying genes can help researchers and medical professionals anticipate a diabetes diagnosis and formulate personalized treatment plans that are ideal for keeping glucose in control and altering disease progression.  

Keep reading the article for further details regarding the role of genetics in developing diabetes, screening, the best ways to prevent or delay diabetes progression, and how different environmental factors may contribute to different types of diabetes. 

Although genetic susceptibility may make developing diabetes highly likely, having genetic risk factors doesn’t imply you are definitely going to develop the condition. 

Over the past few years, scientists have found a connection between some genes and the development of diabetes. It is believed that types 1 and 2 diabetes have intricate genetic etiologies, with over 40 and 90 genes/loci respectively involved that interact with lifestyle factors.

The identified genes have assorted functions and responsibilities which can impact blood sugar control. These functions include affecting the expression of other genes, monitoring the insulin release, providing glucose to cells, and expediting the decomposition of glucose.

But, together with genes, certain environmental factors should trigger diabetes to become active. For instance, in children with a genetic susceptibility to type 1 diabetes, viruses, cold weather, early food introduction, and whether they are breastfed all play a crucial role in developing type 1 diabetes.

1. Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes occurs when your body’s immune system attacks and destroys the cells in your pancreas that produce insulin (a hormone that helps transport glucose into your cells to be used as energy). Due to very high glucose levels, you develop hyperglycemia. 

People with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin injections along with monitoring glucose levels every day. This type of diabetes generally appears in children or younger adults, and that’s the reason why it was previously called juvenile diabetes. However, it can occur at any age. 

Autoantibodies that attack the insulin-producing beta cells can be in the blood for several years before an actual diagnosis is made. But, these antibodies' presence doesn’t guarantee that a person will develop type 1 diabetes for sure. Many people with positive antibodies never develop the disorder in their lifetime.

White people, individuals living in the north or colder climates, are comparatively more likely to develop type 1 diabetes than people belonging to other racial and ethnic groups. Moreover, The onset of type 1 diabetes is more likely to occur in the winter months.

As type-1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder, people with it are at an elevated risk of developing other autoimmune disorders, including celiac disease, Graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, etc. 

People with a family history of type 1 diabetes are susceptible to developing diabetes. However, the inheritance pattern in most cases isn’t clear.

2. Type 2 Diabetes

Type-2 diabetes is a condition that occurs when your body cannot use insulin properly (insulin resistance). At first, the pancreas creates more insulin to compensate, but there isn’t adequate blood to maintain glucose levels at the normal range over time. Type-2 diabetes is the most prevalent type of diabetes, accounting for about 90 - 95% of all cases. 

People who are over the age of 45 and/or those who are overweight or obese are at significant risk of developing type-2 diabetes. Cardiovascular conditions, including high blood pressure, high triglycerides, or low HDL (good cholesterol) levels, are associated with type 2 diabetes. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and depression also contribute to the condition. 

In general, if you look at people with diabetes, they will likely have someone in their families too with the condition or have diabetes or any other risk factor. However, it is hard to discern that if the influence is solely due to genes or common environmental or lifestyle factors are also responsible. 

It can also be something like what they are sharing isn’t a genetic variation, but an unhealthy diet or lack of access to exercise opportunities, based on the geographical location they live in.

3. Gestational Diabetes

During pregnancy, most women develop some insulin resistance, indicating that there’s enough glucose available to provide energy to the developing fetus. Many women don't develop gestational diabetes, but several others do. 

As with type 2 diabetes, a mix of genes, environment, or lifestyle factors are likely to play a vital role. Many women who develop gestational diabetes have at least one close relative who has had gestational diabetes or type 2 diabetes.

Insulin resistance in gestational diabetes may lead to high blood pressure during pregnancy (referred to as preeclampsia) and premature birth. Babies born to mothers with the condition tend to have more than the normal birth weight, which may lead to complications during delivery. 

The babies of women with gestational diabetes are also more susceptible to develop dramatically low blood sugar levels soon after birth. Later on in life, the offspring have an elevated risk of having obesity, type 2 diabetes, or heart disease.

4. Diabetes Insipidus

Diabetes is an entirely different condition from type 1 or type 2 diabetes. These are both types of diabetes mellitus that either affects the production of insulin hormone in the pancreas or affect the body’s ability to utilize it. 

Diabetes insipidus, on the other hand, doesn’t affect insulin production or the way the body utilizes blood sugar. Rather, it results from the malfunction of the pituitary gland and impacts vasopressin hormone production, which alters the water balance in the body.

Following are two types of diabetes insipidus:

 Nephrogenic Diabetes Insipidus: A genetic condition that occurs after a parent has passed on a genetic mutation.

● Neurohypophyseal diabetes insipidus: It is partly hereditary and genetic, but it can also be caused due to an injury or tumor.  

People with diabetes insipidus are known to get hydrated very quickly. They will need to drink plenty of water and urinate frequently. In someone with diabetes insipidus, dehydration can also lead to confusion, seizures, low blood pressure, and even coma. 

How Can You Minimize The Risk?

As already discussed, having a family history of diabetes does increase your risk. However, it doesn’t ensure you will eventually develop diabetes. If you've someone in your family with type 2 diabetes for gestational diabetes, you can consider the following tips to minimize the risk:

● Stay physically active: Avoid sitting for prolonged periods and aim to exercise at least 30 minutes most days of the week.

● Eat more plant-based foods: This includes not just fruits and vegetables but also nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains. Going vegan is linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.

● Lose weight if you are overweight or obese: Try losing some weight if you have accumulated much fat, especially in the abdominal region. Even a slight weight reduction of about 5 - 10% can help alleviate the risk. For pregnant women, gaining weight slowly rather than quickly can help prevent gestational diabetes.  

● Get regular health checkups: If you have recently put on weight or are feeling very tired and sluggish, you might have an elevated blood sugar level. Get frequent health checkups so that the problem gets identified and treated early.

Do You Need Diabetes Screening?

As type 2 diabetes takes a very long time to develop, people could be walking around with insulin resistance or insulin resistance without even realizing that they have the condition. If you get diagnosed with diabetes early, you may be able to prevent or delay the disease progression. Frequent screening is recommended for people with any of the following risk factors:

 Older than 45 years of age: If your results come up to be normal, testing should be repeated at a minimum of the three-year gap, with consideration of more frequent testing based on initial test results (people with prediabetes should be tested annually).

● High Body Mass Index (BMI): A BMI higher than 25 kilogram per square meter or a waist size of over 40 inches in men and over 35 inches in women is a significant risk factor. 

● Dwelling in a high-risk population: Populations with an elevated risk of developing prediabetes include Black Americans, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, Asian Americans, Hispanic/Latinx Americans, and Pacific Islanders.

● Lifestyle: A sedentary lifestyle is also a risk factor. 

● Family history: Having a parent or a sibling with diabetes places you at an elevated risk for developing the condition. 

● Gestational diabetes: A family history of gestational diabetes or having given birth to a baby weighing over nine pounds are risk factors.

● High blood pressure (hypertension): People with high blood pressure are highly susceptible to developing diabetes.

● High fat and cholesterol levels: If you have high levels of triglycerides and low levels of good cholesterol (HDL), you are at a higher risk.

● Medications: The use of glucocorticoids or atypical antipsychotic drugs increases the risk.

● Predisposing conditions: These include nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, acanthosis nigricans, and PCOS.

Some non-invasive tests can alert you if you are at an elevated risk of developing type 2 diabetes. These tests include cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, and hemoglobin A1C. 

What Other Things To Consider?

Sometimes women who have a family history with gestational still develop diabetes regardless of their efforts to eat a healthy diet, exercise, maintain healthy body weight, etc. This happens because pregnancy hormones and insulin resistance make it very difficult to control blood sugar during pregnancy. Your healthcare team will help you attain your blood sugar goals during pregnancy to ensure that you and your baby are healthy and thriving.

Once you have delivered your baby, the blood sugar levels should go back to normal. Kindly continue to have a well-balanced diet, exercise, maintain a healthy body weight to minimize your odds of developing type-2 diabetes later in life.

Although there’s no way to prevent or cure type 1 diabetes, frequent health checkups and vaccinations are crucial. Certain studies suggest that viruses could trigger type 1 diabetes in predisposed individuals. So, try and prevent getting contacted with the virus to reduce the odds of developing diabetes.

Recognizing the early warning signs of diabetes can help prevent dangerous conditions such as diabetic ketoacidosis. 


Genetic components increase the risk of developing diabetes, but it is not the only factor. Several environmental elements, lifestyle, and other health conditions also play a vital role in developing the condition. 

There are different types of diabetes, and your risk relies on the type of diabetes you are predisposed to. In case you have a family history of diabetes, and you are concerned about it, kindly talk to your doctor to know your risk.