Diabetes mellitus, better known as juvenile or type 1 diabetes, begins in childhood and lasts a lifetime. It is caused by an abnormality in insulin levels in the body because the pancreas produces little or no insulin. As a result, the sugar level in the blood and urine becomes dangerously elevated.
There are a number of factors that appear to contribute to the development of diabetes, and a new study adds very high weight gains during infancy to the list.
Of course, all babies need to gain weight during their first year, but the large Scandinavian study found that babies who had big increases in weight were more likely to develop type 1 diabetes.
This is one risk factor for type 1 diabetes that parents have some control over.
While some complications can be prevented or delayed, management is a lifelong commitment. Diabetic symptoms are managed with diet, medication therapy, including oral medications, and injected insulin. The disease represents a tremendous personal and public health burden. It is estimated that the total annual cost of diabetes (type 1 and type 2) has risen 41 percent increase since 2007 — to $245 billion in 2012.
A virus-triggered autoimmune response that causes the destruction of pancreatic cells that product insulin has also been suggested. Certain environmental chemicals, such as pesticides, have been shown to destroy pancreatic cells as well.
Researchers took into account other factors that would influence weight gain and were known to contribute to the development of diabetes — such as how long a child was breastfed, the mother's age, education, smoking, height, and pre-pregnancy BMI, whether or not she is diabetic; the father's paternal height and BMI.
Big weight increases early in infancy, before 6 months, were more risky than weight increases later.
Babies who had large increases in weight during the first year of life had a higher risk of developing type one diabetes during childhood, they found. The greater the weight gain, the higher the risk.
Big weight increases early in infancy, before 6 months, were more risky than weight increases later — between six and 12 months, the data also showed. A baby's weight at 12 months was also significantly predictive of the development of type 1 diabetes.
The babies' birth weight and their increase in length in the first year of life were not significantly associated with diabetes risk.
Laboratory studies have shown that beta cells that are actively secreting insulin may be more susceptive to biochemical damage. If the overly stimulated beta cells sustain damage from molecules such as cytokines, they may lose their ability to produce insulin and the body's sugar levels will veer out of control, resulting in diabetes mellitus, type 1. Other possible explanations include the changes in gut microbiota, that is the types and numbers of “good” bacteria that inhabit the infants gastrointestinal system, or that damage to the pancreas is the result of inflammation.
Here is one risk factor for type 1 diabetes that parents have some control over. If well-baby visits to your pediatrician indicate that your child is heavy for his or her size, discuss your infant's diet and risk factors with your care providers so you can optimize your baby's nutrition and keep weight gain within normal limits.
When there is rapid weight gain, there is increased demand on the beta cells that are responsible for insulin secretion from the pancreas.
The study is published in JAMA Pediatrics.