Type 1 diabetes is a condition in which the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, or doesn’t produce insulin at all.

Diabetes is loosely defined as a condition in which the body cannot produce or interact with the hormone insulin effectively.

When it comes to our overall blood sugar, and health, there is a fine balance between glucose and insulin at play.

Before delving into type 1 diabetes and the causes of type 1 diabetes. It’s important to define two key players in your diagnosis.

Glucose: is a molecule of sugar. Glucose is an energy source that is important for all living organisms. Most carbohydrate sources contain glucose.

Insulin: is a hormone that is produced by the pancreas. It controls the amount of glucose that is circulating in your blood.

Now, let’s talk about type 1 diabetes including the causes and whether or not diabetes is a serious condition.

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What Is Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder in which the body cannot effectively produce and therefore use insulin for healthy glucose conversion.

In some instances, the body may produce no insulin leading to high blood sugar.

In simpler terms, if the pancreas cannot produce a sufficient volume of insulin, the body cannot effectively use glucose the way it should.

  • Type 1 diabetes is sometimes known as juvenile onset diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes.

  • Type 1 diabetes is often referred to as an autoimmune condition because the body’s immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that are responsible for producing insulin.

  • 14 years is the most common age to receive a type 1 diabetes diagnosis.

  • Type 1 diabetes is most likely to affect Caucasians, over African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, South-Americans and Chinese people.

  • On-going high blood sugar is the cause of symptoms associated with type 1 diabetes.

For people who don’t have diabetes, the following process occurs when we eat food:

  1. You eat food.

  2. Glucose is released from the food you eat and it enters your bloodstream.

  3. Insulin is released from the pancreas and attaches itself to the outside of cells. This results in the transport and absorption of glucose from the bloodstream into the body’s cells.

  4. Your cells receives a sufficient amount of glucose to turn into energy.

  5. The cycle repeats.

If you are living with type 1 diabetes, the process is a little different.

Here’s what happens if you are living with type 1 diabetes:

  1. You eat food.

  2. Glucose is released from the food you eat and it enters your bloodstream.

  3. Insulin is released in low volumes and sometimes not at all.

  4. Due to the insufficient level of circulating insulin in the body, glucose cannot enter the cells.

  5. The person who has consumed the food does not receive the insulin they require, meaning that over time, those who are living with type 1 diabetes will have high blood sugar and not enough energy makes its way into the cells of the body for growth and repair. Over a prolonged period of time, this may lead to a number of unpleasant day to day symptoms.

  6. The cycle repeats.

  7. Medical intervention may be necessary.

What Causes Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes may be caused by:

  • Genetics
  • Family history
  • Childhood bacterial and viral infections
  • Hygiene
  • Vitamin D levels
  • Past and present health status

Type 1 diabetes is sometimes caused by nature, sometimes caused by nurture and sometimes it’s a mixture of the two that may lead to your type 1 diabetes diagnosis.

Your genetics
Type 1 diabetes isn’t fully ruled by genetics, however there are certain genes that play a role. Remember that type 1 diabetes is classified as an autoimmune disorder, this means that the body attacks its own immune system.

In the case of type 1 diabetes, the body destroys the cells that produce insulin. These cells are known as the islets of Langerhans, they are responsible for the production and release of hormones that regulate glucose levels.

The genes that play a role in your genetic risk of type 1 diabetes are called HLA genes, they play a critical role in your immune system, certain HLA genes that you may be born may cause your body to attack the immune system that looks after insulin production.

Your environment
There are certain environmental factors that may contribute to your risk of developing type 1 diabetes.

For instance, research suggests that being delivered by caesarean delivery, your early childhood diet, the role of antibiotics on the microbiome (the bacteria in your gut) and breastfeeding may have an impact on your risk of developing type 1 diabetes.

Bear in mind that these examples and your experience of each factor will not make a yes/no decision on whether or not you receive a type 1 diabetes diagnosis, that is also connected to your overall propensity to the condition.

Your health history
Your health history plays a role in your risk of type 1 diabetes, according to a number of studies.

In particular, current or previous bacterial infections are said to be a potential cause of type 1 diabetes and they impact on your body’s ability to produce insulin.

Bacterial and viral infections may cause pancreatic lesions which affects the body’s ability to produce insulin.

Hygiene and one’s risk of type 1 diabetes is a school of thought that proposes that if someone was to have grown up with few childhood infections, their immune system will be weaker, meaning that they may be more prone to developing autoimmune conditions such as type 1 diabetes in the future.


Vitamin D levels are suggested to play a role in someone’s type 1 diabetes risk due to the fact that vitamin D plays a role in metabolic pathways and immunity. It may also be observed that there is a higher incidence rate of type 1 diagnoses as you move further and further from the equator. In saying that, there is no solid evidence that suggests that increasing your vitamin D supplementation will make an overall difference.

Is Type 1 Diabetes Serious?

Type 1 diabetes can be serious - let’s have a look at some of the instances when type 1 diabetes may become serious.

If type 1 diabetes is not managed correctly, there are a number of complications that can make the condition quite serious and more difficult to manage down the line.

Your blood affects all parts of your body. If your blood sugar is high over a prolonged period of time, there are certain health complications one might expect as time progresses.

Your eyes
Diabetic retinopathy occurs when high blood sugar affects the blood vessels in your eyes, and in particular, your retina. This may cause blurred vision, progressing to more significant health concerns such as cataracts, glaucoma and blindness.

Your skin
As we have mentioned, diabetes affects your level of immunity. If you are living with type 1 diabetes, you are more likely to experience bacterial or fungal infections because your immune system has been weakened, and it can also take much longer for your skin to heal.

Your mouth
Similarly to the skin, you are more likely to suffer from bacterial and fungal infections in your mouth and gums if your immune system has been weakened by type 1 diabetes.


Your heart
Your heart and surrounding blood vessels, including the arteries, may be affected by type 1 diabetes because prolonged high blood sugar may lead to higher blood pressure and an increased risk of blood clots and blockages. Type 1 diabetes drastically increases your risk of heart attack, heart disease and atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries caused by the build up of plaque).

Your kidneys
Your kidneys contain a complex network of tiny blood vessels that work together to filter the blood and remove toxins from the body. If you are living with type 1 diabetes, there is a higher risk of developing kidney disease.

Your feet
Your feed may be affected by type 1 diabetes, because when you are living with this condition, circulation may become slower which can lead to poor blood supply, especially in the feet. Lower levels of circulation increases your risk of cuts and blisters, while weakened immunity leads to a higher chance that you will gain an infection.

Your nerves
Your nerves are affected by blood supply. If you are living with a prolonged period of high blood sugar, your nerves can become damaged and you may experience a numbness through various nerves in your body, starting with your peripheries, such as your hands and feet.

This complication may affect all parts of your body, from your microbiome to sensation in your limbs.

Your sex life
Your sex life may be affected by type 1 diabetes, because as mentioned, it affects the nerves, there is always going to be a chance that the nerves of the genitals become damaged which could show changes in your sex life and enjoyment of sex, particularly for men who have an increased risk of experiencing erectile dysfunction if they are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

Your pregnancy
Your pregnancy may be affected by type 1 diabetes if not controlled correctly. Poorly managed type 1 diabetes increases the risk of miscarraige, stillbirth and various birth defects.

This list of complications may have made you more worried as opposed to less. That is not what we are here to do, and it’s important to realize that these are the worst case scenarios.

Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong condition that will need to be managed on a day to day basis, but once you find the right strategy that fits in with your life, it can be well-managed and you can live a very healthy and happy life.

If you are concerned about symptoms that you have been experiencing for some time. Don’t put it off, get checked as soon as you can. There’s power in knowing.

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Written by Hannah Kingston | Edited by Dr. Susan O' Sullivan