Traumatic childhood events raise risk of diabetes

Traumatic childhood events raise risk of diabetes

Swedish researchers found that serious life events in childhood could triple the risk of subsequently developing type 1 diabetes.

The causes of type 1 diabetes are unknown, but both genetic and environmental factors are involved and in addition to genetic predisposition, several environmental factors such as viral infection, dietary habits in infancy, birthweight and early weight gain, as well as chronic stress, could be risk factors.

Incidence of type 1 diabetes among young children is increasing in most countries in the world and environmental factors are now being examined more seriously.

A team of researchers from Linköping University, Sweden set out to examine whether psychological stress in terms of experiences of serious life events, along with parental perception of parenting stress and lack of social support, during the child’s first 14 years of life, could be a risk factor for developing type 1 diabetes.

The study invited all families with babies born between October 1997 and September 1999 in southeast Sweden to take part and included 10,495 families participating in at least one of four data collections carried out when the children were between 2 and 14 years of age.

Participating children had to not have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when participating for the first time and 58 children were subsequently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

Age at diagnosis was obtained from the national register SweDiabKids in 2012 and the researchers measured family psychological stress using questionnaires given to the parents assessing serious life events, parenting stress, parental worries and the parent’s social support.

They found that childhood experience of a serious life event was associated with a higher risk of future diagnosis of type 1 diabetes.

Children experiencing such events were almost three times more likely to develop type 1 diabetes than those who had not, even after adjustment for confounding factors such as genetic predisposition to type 1 diabetes, age at entry into the study, genetic predisposition for type 2 diabetes, size for gestational age, parents’ education level and whether the mother worked at least 50% of full time hours before the child’s birth.

In relation to other environmental factors discussed as risk factors, the increase in risk of type 1 diabetes caused by serious life events found in this study was comparable to that of factors such as birthweight, infant nutrition factors and enterovirus infection.

However, when the researchers compared single risk factors, genetic predisposition was still much more important.

The authors said: “Psychological stress should be treated as a potential risk factor, and should be examined further in future epidemiological studies, for instance in relation to genetic risk.”

Dr Richard Elliott, Diabetes UK’s research communications manager, said: “The causes of type 1 diabetes are highly complex and involve an auto-immune attack brought on by a combination of inherited genes and environmental triggers such as early diet or viral infection, which are still not fully understood.

“This research adds to our understanding of the potential role of psychological stress during childhood as one of these triggers.”


* Maria Nygren, et al. Experience of a serious life event increases the risk for childhood type 1 diabetes: the ABIS population-based prospective cohort study. Diabetologia, 2015. DOI 10.1007/s00125-015-3555-2


By Adrian O'Dowd,

OnMedica, Friday 10 April 2015

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