Is diabetes genetic, hereditary or both?

Is diabetes genetic, hereditary or both?

There is debate about whether or not diabetes is genetic, hereditary or both.

If a condition is genetic, it means that it can be inherited due to genes passed from one generation to another, or can develop because of exposure to certain environmental factors that damage genes.

If a condition is hereditary, it means that it is passed from one generation to the other.

  • Sometimes there is a hereditary element to diabetes, in that the condition is more likely to occur in those that have a family history.

  • There are also genetic elements when it comes to diabetes as some specific genes are associated with the condition.

Let’s dive into the connection between the most common types of diabetes, genetics and family history (hereditary factors) as a risk.



Prediabetes, Genetics & Family History

Is prediabetes genetic?

Prediabetes can develop due to a genetic predisposition and is impacted by lifestyle factors.

Prediabetes may be described as hereditary because those who are living with prediabetes may inherit a predisposition to develop prediabetes, due to familial circumstances and their environment, however no specific “pre-diabetes gene” has been discovered yet.

Prediabetes is described as a state during which blood glucose levels are higher than they should be, over a prolonged period of time.

While some could argue that prediabetes is hereditary, because poor diet and low levels of activity can run in the family, there is no research to strictly suggest that people who have prediabetes carry a particular gene that causes the condition.

In sum: Prediabetes may be hereditary and may be impacted upon by your genetics. You are not born with pre-diabetes, pre-diabetes is a condition that develops over time due to a number of lifestyle factors such as poor diet, being overweight and a sedentary lifestyle.

Here are the common causes of prediabetes:

  • Poor nutrition
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Being overweight
  • Poor quality/quantity sleep
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Ethnicity

Type 1 Diabetes, Genetics & Family History

Is type 1 diabetes genetic?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition, impacted by genetics.

Type 1 diabetes can be hereditary.

According to the American Diabetes Association: “If you are a man with type 1 diabetes, the odds of your child developing diabetes are 1 in 17. If you are a woman with type 1 diabetes and your child was born before you were 25, your child's risk is 1 in 25; if your child was born after you turn 25, your child's risk is 1 in 100.”

Traditionally, type 1 diabetes has been known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes because it is more likely to affect those who are aged 14 and under.

There is an increased interest in genetic testing that may be able to predict one’s risk of diabetes and in more recent studies, it has been shown that are certain genes that may increase your risk of developing diabetes later down the line.

Research has shown that:

  • White people who are living with diabetes have the HLA-DR3 or HLA-DR4 gene.
  • African Americans who are living with diabetes often have the HLA-DR7 gene.
  • Japanese people who are living with diabetes often have the HLA-DR9 gene.

In sum: Type 1 diabetes may be impacted by genetics and your family health history, i.e, it may also be hereditary.

Another cause of type 1 diabetes is:

  • Past and present bacterial and viral infections

Type 2 Diabetes, Genetics & Family History

Is type 2 diabetes genetic?

Type 2 diabetes may develop due to a genetic predisposition and is impacted by lifestyle factors.

Type 2 diabetes may also be impacted by family health history but this lies within the nature vs. nurture debate. If you are part of a family who continuously has a poor diet, low level of exercise and is overweight, there is a higher risk that you will also develop type 2 diabetes.

Despite the fact that type 2 diabetes could be classified as a genetic condition, it is correlated more strongly with lifestyle and environmental factors.

When it comes to genetics, your risk of developing type 2 diabetes may be connected to up to 150 DNA variations that are associated with the condition, these genes are said to have an impact on the performance of the beta cells in producing sufficient insulin for successful glucose absorption and transportation.

While there are a number of gene mutations that have been linked to type 2 diabetes, there is a much higher likelihood of developing issues down the line if you have a family history of diabetes or if you fall within some high risk groups.

Here are some other causes of type 2 diabetes:

  • Insulin resistance
  • Ageing
  • Being overweight
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Poor nutrition

The American Diabetes Association says: “If you have a family history of type 2 diabetes, it may be difficult to figure out whether your diabetes is due to lifestyle factors or genetic susceptibility. Most likely it is due to both.”

Gestational Diabetes, Genetics & Family History

Is gestational diabetes genetic?

Gestational diabetes is genetic but your risk of developing the condition doesn’t rely solely on your genes.

Gestational diabetes has been described as a hereditary condition as there is an increased risk of experiencing gestational diabetes if a family member has.

Gestational diabetes is a condition that may occur at the beginning of your pregnancy when blood sugar is elevated over a prolonged period of time due to insulin resistance.

Gestational diabetes usually passes after your pregnancy but there is a higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes down the line.

2-5% of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes and the prevalence of the condition has risen in the last decade.

Gestational diabetes develops as a result of interactions between environmental and genetic factors.

Family history has been observed in studies which have shown the familial connections of gestational diabetes.

While there is no clear inheritance pattern, women with gestational diabetes often have a family member with diabetes, usually type 2

Here are some other common causes of gestational diabetes:

  • Women who become pregnant later in life
  • Obesity
  • A previous history of gestational diabetes

What Is Family Medical History?

A family medical history is defined as: “A record of information about a person’s health. A personal medical history may include information about allergies, illnesses, surgeries, immunizations, and results of physical exams and tests. It may also include information about medicines taken and health habits, such as diet and exercise. A family medical history includes health information about a person’s close family members (parents, grandparents, children, brothers, and sisters). This includes their current and past illnesses. A family medical history may show a pattern of certain diseases in a family. Also called health history.”

What Should You Do If You Have A Family History Of Diabetes?

If you have a family history of diabetes, you should look at the direct causes of your family member’s diabetes, as it will equip you with the essential knowledge that you need to lower your risk of developing prediabetes, type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes down the line.

Unfortunately, there are no lifestyle changes you can make to offset your chance of developing type 1 diabetes. It is important to be aware of the symptoms and signs of type 1 diabetes so you can get tested should you start to experience these.

If you have a family history of diabetes, there are two things that you need to take into consideration.

First things first, there is a genetic component. You need to ask yourself questions like: “Who in your family has diabetes?” If it’s your mother or father, there is an increased likelihood that you will develop the condition.

Secondly, you need to look at the environment in which you were raised. Would you consider your family healthy? Take a look at the dinner table, does your average family meal contain a sufficient amount of fruits and vegetables? Do you and your family get enough exercise in?

If you are overweight or obese, there is an increased chance of developing prediabetes, type 2 diabetes or gestational diabetes down the line, but all is not lost. There are lifestyle changes that you can make to better your overall health and reduce your risk of diabetes down the line.

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Written by Hannah Kingston | Medically Reviewed by Dr. Susan O’ Sullivan