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Childhood stress 'may raise diabetes risk'

14 April 2015 09:05

Having type 1 diabetes may involve regular insulin injections

Having type 1 diabetes may involve regular insulin injections

The risk of developing type 1 diabetes could be up to three times lower for people who have a stress-free childhood than for those who experience a bereavement or parental split, the results of a new study suggest.

Swedish researchers looked at over 10,000 families whose children were between the ages of two and 14, and did not already have type 1 diabetes.

The research team quizzed parents about psychologically stressful events such as family conflict, unemployment, the death of a loved one, and financial worries.

Nearly 60 of the children were later diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, the study found.

The researchers say their analysis of the data suggests that living through stressful events in childhood could treble the risk of developing the condition.

And they add that because such events are usually unavoidable, the families experiencing them require support to help them deal with the stress.

Careful monitoring

People with type 1 diabetes have to carefully monitor and control their blood glucose levels and most need regular insulin injections.

But having the condition need not stop people enjoying a normal life, and diabetes travel insurance means they can go on holiday safe in the knowledge that treatments they need while abroad may be covered.

Although the causes are unknown, type 1 diabetes usually develops after beta cells in the pancreas - the organ that produces insulin - have been attacked by the body's own immune system.

Higher cortisol levels

The study suggests that children experiencing highly upsetting events will have elevated levels of cortisol - the stress hormone - increasing the demand for insulin and raising insulin resistance.

The researchers say further studies are needed but conclude that living through a psychologically stressful event when young could be a risk factor, in terms of developing the disease.

Published in the European Association for the Study of Diabetes' journal, Diabetologia, the research was conducted at Sweden's Linkoping University.

Children who have a close relative with type 1 diabetes are known to be 12 times likelier to develop it than those who do not.

Previous studies have suggested that other risk factors include diet, birth weight, viral infections and chronic stress.