The exact cause of type 1 diabetes is unknown. But in most people with type 1 diabetes, the body’s immune system — which normally fights harmful bacteria and viruses — mistakenly destroys insulin-producing (islet) cells in the pancreas. Genetics and environmental factors appear to play a role in this process.
Insulin performs the critical job of moving sugar (glucose) from the bloodstream to the body’s cells. Sugar enters the bloodstream when food is digested.
Once the islet cells of the pancreas are destroyed, your child produces little or no insulin. As a result, glucose builds up in your child’s bloodstream, where it can cause life-threatening complications.
Risk factors for type 1 diabetes in children include:
- Family history. Anyone with a parent or siblings with type 1 diabetes has a slightly increased risk of developing the condition.
- Genetic susceptibility. The presence of certain genes indicates an increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes.
- Race. In the United States, type 1 diabetes is more common among non-Hispanic white children than among other races.
Environmental risk factors might include:
- Certain viruses. Exposure to various viruses may trigger the autoimmune destruction of the islet cells.
- Diet. No specific dietary factor or nutrient in infancy has been shown to play a role in the development of type 1 diabetes. However, early intake of cow’s milk has been linked to an increased risk of type 1 diabetes, while breast-feeding might lower the risk. The timing of the introduction of cereal into a baby’s diet also may affect a child’s risk of type 1 diabetes