There’s a stigma surrounding type 2 diabetes—and some blame the disease on unhealthy lifestyle choices.

What if it wasn’t due to lifestyle choices?

What if you had as much control over being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes as you did wishing you’d been born with green eyes and blonde hair? Could type 2 diabetes be genetically determined?

According to new research, this may be just the case.

The culprit: DYRK1B

A mutation found in the gene DYRK1B, which is responsible for regulating the balance of muscle to fat and stabilizing glucose levels, may lead to a cluster of risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome like obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. This specific type of mutation is rare, but previous studies have linked DYRK1B as a common variant in the general population of those with traits associated with metabolic syndrome.

In the new study, researchers found that in three large family lines, the mutation was dominant and was associated with the early development of metabolic syndrome. Findings suggest that this mutation could determine how cells regulate fat—resulting in more fat instead of muscle.

More research into the function of DYRK1B is needed before targeted therapies can be developed that can eliminate the impact the mutation has on cells.

Can you inherit type 2 diabetes?

Researchers at Joslin Diabetes Center report that, “While much has been learned about what genetic factors make one more susceptible to developing diabetes than another, many questions remain to be answered. While some people are more likely to get diabetes than others, and in some ways type 2 (adult onset diabetes) is simpler to track than type 1 (juvenile onset) diabetes, the pattern is not always clear.”

While the genetics of type 2 diabetes are complex, patients are more likely to have a relative with type 2 diabetes. “The occurrence of multiple cases in a family may reflect shared ‘environmental risk factors,’ such as obesity and sedentary lifestyle, and does not necessarily imply the sharing of a diabetes gene. In general, the risk of diabetes for a sibling of a patient with type 2 diabetes is about the same as that in the general population,” says Joslin.

There are exceptions. “If a patient developed diabetes despite being lean, then the sibling’s risk is about twice the general population risk," Joslin states. "Or, if the patient has a parent with type 2 diabetes, the sibling’s risk is almost three times the general population risk. If both parents have type 2 diabetes, the sibling has a fourfold risk, or nearly a 50 percent chance of developing diabetes.”

The choice is yours

Despite this research, remember: a diabetes diagnosis comes from more than just genetic factors. There are medical and lifestyle risks that can’t be measured. And whether diabetes is caused by lifestyle choices or genetics or both, it affects 20.8 million people in the United States, with 1.5 million being diagnosed each year.

Knowing your risk factors and your available treatment options are steps to living a healthy and full life despite a diabetes diagnosis.

To learn more about diabetes and genetics:

My Family's Got It — Type 2 Diabetes
Genetics Prove Protective Against Type 2 Diabetes
Scientists Find Gene that May Link to Type 1 Diabetes