Lt Col Reynolds
Environmental factors including foods, viruses, and toxins seem to be linked to type 1 diabetes, but exactly how these factors contribute to the development of this disease is still a subject of ongoing research. Major Spencer, can you tell us more about the link between environmental factors and type 1 diabetes?

Maj Spencer
Well, Dr. Reynolds, some research suggests that environmental factors trigger the immune system to attack beta cells in the pancreas, especially in people who have a family history of type 1 diabetes.

Certain viral infections seem to present an especially strong link with type 1 diabetes. A virus can’t cause diabetes by itself, but many people are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes during or after a viral infection. Some viruses that seem to be linked to type 1 diabetes include cytomegalovirus, adenovirus, coxsackievirus B, rubella, and mumps.

One theory of how viruses can contribute to type 1 diabetes is that they trigger an autoimmune response in genetically predisposed people. In other words, if a person with a family history of diabetes contracts rubella, for example, it could trigger their immune system to attack the beta cells in their pancreas in addition to attacking the infection. Without beta cells, they can’t produce insulin to keep their blood glucose under control.

Another theory is that the viruses themselves may be damaging or destroying the beta cells. Cytomegalovirus is thought to behave this way. Again, the destruction of beta cells means the body can’t produce the insulin it needs to control the amount of glucose in the bloodstream, which can lead to other serious health problems.