Researchers have long searched for the causes of diabetes, and there are many answers. Here are a few recent studies that may add to our knowledge of where diabetes comes from.
Epigenetic changes and obesity
Diabetes is a disease present in the human genome, according to a study reported on LiveScience, but it must be triggered before a patient will experience symptoms and have the disease. Obesity may change the epigenome, a sort of chemical tag associated with DNA, and may trigger the DNA that codes for diabetes, researchers at Johns Hopkins University found in a study completed with both mice and people. Mice placed on high-fat diets became obese and diabetic, and their gene expressions were dramatically different than the leaner mice. This was despite the fact that each mouse was a clone – genetically identical to the others. Scientists identified specific changes in the epigenome of these mice, and then went looking for them in human subjects who had gastric bypass surgery, where they found the same epigenetic markers.
"Mice and humans are separated by 50 million years of evolution, so it's interesting that obesity causes similar epigenetic changes to similar genes in both species," Dr. Andrew Feinberg, director of the university's Center for Epigenetics, said.
Culture and acculturation
Two recent studies have examined the role of cultural change in diabetes development. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found Latino individuals acculturating to life in the U.S. had a high risk for diabetes – higher than the already elevated risk common to all Latinos. Researchers suspect one factor may be the stress people undergo as they immigrate to and adjust to a new culture.
Another study, this one from the University of Alberta, found a strong correlation between declining knowledge of indigenous languages among First Nations people and their rates of diabetes. The less traditional culture was present in an aboriginal community, as measured by how widely their traditional language was spoken, the more likely diabetes was to be a greater problem.
Co-author Rick Lightning, an elder with the Ermineskin Cree Nation near Maskwacis, believes it is necessary to return to traditional practices to fight diabetes symptoms.
"We are getting these diseases because we never looked after ourselves through the traditional foods and practices," he told The Edmonton Journal.