How Your Genes Can Play a Role in Whether You get Diabetes

How Your Genes Can Play a Role in Whether You get Diabetes

Introduction Can diabetes be hereditary? The hypothesis that genetic factors are the cause of diabetes has been pu


Can diabetes be hereditary? The hypothesis that genetic factors are the cause of diabetes has been put out for many years; today, this is known with absolute certainty. There is no specific diabetes gene that gets turned on or off to give you diabetes; instead, many genes have a critical role in developing Diabetes Mellitus.

If you have diabetes and are concerned about whether your child will develop it as well, or if one of your family members has diabetes, you want to understand your risk of developing diabetes. Then you should learn more about how genes play a role in each type of diabetes, genetic testing for examination, and tips to prevent or reduce the risk of developing diabetes.

Role of Genetics in Diabetes

Early identification of risk factors is necessary for promoting diabetes testing and adopting prevention actions. For example, early detection and treatment of type 2 diabetes enhance the prevention of microvascular and macrovascular complications associated with this disease.

For years, it has been known that not all populations or persons present with the same risk for diabetes. For example, folks in developing countries and disadvantaged and minority populations in more industrialized countries are at much higher risk. Additionally, ethnicity, genetics, and lifestyle play an important role in determining a person’s risk of diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes

According to studies, Type 1 Diabetes is the most frequent chronic disease in children, caused by various hereditary and environmental factors. Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disease caused by the destruction of beta cells in the pancreas, responsible for generating insulin to help manage the body’s blood sugar. Usually, the early signs and symptoms of diabetes in infants and children are minor, and parents aren't aware of it.

In recent decades, a high hereditary predisposition and genetic factors were identified as the risk of developing Type 1 Diabetes. Twin and family studies provide indications for the genetics of diabetes by assessing the familial aggregation of the disease among relatives of a diagnosed individual. It has been reported that the heritable risk for Type 1 Diabetes in monozygotic (sharing 100% of genes) twin pairs is over 40%. In contrast, the prevalence of Type 1 Diabetes in dizygotic (sharing 50% of genes) twin pairs is approximately 8%.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 Diabetes is a chronic disorder characterised by a high insulin level in your body that arises due to the body's dysfunction to use insulin properly. It is a hereditary disorder in which both genetic and environmental factors drive the development of the disease; besides that, age, sex, obesity, lifestyle factors including lacking physical activity, and a family history of diabetes also play a role in the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Multiple pieces of evidence show that monozygotic twins had a higher prevalence rate than dizygotic twins, which has been strong evidence of significant genetic risk in Type 2 Diabetes. When one parent has Type 2 Diabetes, the progressive risk of developing diabetes is 40% and nearly 70% when both parents are diagnosed with diabetes. Additionally, 40% of first-degree relatives of Type 2 Diabetes patients are at risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes, compared to just 6% in the general population.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational Diabetes is likely to develop during pregnancy, with a high chance of both the mother and the child having Type 2 Diabetes later in life. Even though Gestational Diabetes usually resolves after delivery, women with a history of Gestational Diabetes have a high risk in the development of Type 2 Diabetes compared to nondiabetic women during pregnancy. Around 14% to 41% of women with a history of Gestational Diabetes may lead to the development of Type 2 Diabetes within ten years of the Gestational Diabetes-affected pregnancy. According to several studies, mutations and epigenetic alterations in particular genes can put individuals at risk of Gestational Diabetes. Most of the Gestational Diabetes gene mutations have also been linked to the development of Type 2 Diabetes.

Is Diabetes Genetic Testing Beneficial? Why Does It Depend on the form of Disease?

Early detection of those who are at risk of developing diabetes makes it easier for prevention. It may empower patients to become more involved in their health and risk factors, as well as drive them to make lifestyle changes.

Monogenic Diabetes

Monogenic forms of diabetes are a rare heterogeneous group caused by an alteration of single-gene disease; it is characterised by defects of pancreatic beta cells that result in mild to severe hyperglycemia. More than 30 genes have now been linked to various monogenic diabetes types, with many of them providing valuable insight into biological mechanisms involved in beta cell functioning and insulin production. The two common forms of Monogenic Diabetes are:


Maturity-Onset Diabetes of the Young or MODY occurs in 1-2% of people with diabetes, yet it remains unnoticed most of the time. MODY's three primary characteristics are as follows:

  • Diabetes often develops before the age of 25
  • Diabetes runs in the family from generation to generation
  • Diabetes can be treated with diet and lifestyle changes and doesn’t always require insulin 

MODY can be mistaken with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Knowing which type of MODY a person has will make it easier to provide them with the proper medical care, tell them about how their diabetes will progress in the coming years and tell other family members about their risk of inheriting the disease.


Neonatal diabetes mellitus (NDM) is a monogenic form of diabetes that is likely to develop in the first six to twelve months of life. NDM causes a rise in blood glucose levels in infants because they do not make enough insulin. As a result, genetic testing for Monogenic NDM should be performed on all patients diagnosed under the age of six months. Reasons to seek genetic testing in infants diagnosed between 6 and 12 months include: negative autoantibody tests, gastrointestinal abnormalities or congenital deformities, family history, or onset of several autoimmune diseases at a young age.

Polygenic Diabetes

Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes are the two current polygenic forms, meaning they are caused by mutations in various genes and can be inherited to the next generation. Although it has been acknowledged that Type 2 Diabetes is a polygenic disease, few would have presumed the number of genes included or which ones they would be. Yet, the 40 genes currently found are sufficient to suggest that each person with diabetes may have a unique mix of gene variations causing their disease. Doctors diagnose Polygenic diabetes by monitoring blood glucose levels in those who have diabetes risk factors or symptoms.

How can you reduce the risk of passing on diabetes?

Whether you're diagnosed with prediabetes, or you're at higher risk of developing diabetes due to genetic predisposition, know that minor lifestyle changes will lower your risk. As you have learned previously, developing diabetes is not only associated with genetic risk but also environmental and lifestyle factors. Various studies have revealed safe and practical approaches to lower the risk of getting diabetes and prevent it, such as weight loss, physical activity, quitting smoking, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Maintain a healthy weight

Clinical investigations have previously shown an association between obesity and diabetes. Overweight or obese Canadians aged 18 and above were more likely to develop diabetes than those of average weight. In 2017, 13.7% of obese Canadians had diabetes, compared to 6.8 % of overweight Canadians and 3.6 % of those considered average weight. Losing 5-7% of your current body weight, your chances of having diabetes are decreased in half, and improving your glucose and blood pressure.

Stay Active

Physical activity and lifestyle changes are critical in preventing complications and managing glucose levels in patients with diabetes. The adoption of physical activity seems to lower cardiovascular risk factors, aids in weight reduction, and may help to prevent or delay the onset of Type 2 Diabetes.

It is recommended for Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes to interrupt prolonged sitting with  3 minutes of light walking on the treadmill every 30 minutes, that is a total of 36 minutes daily or 45 minutes of cycling exercise to reduce the risk of diabetes complications and improve the glycemic control.

Eat healthy & balanced meals

Scientists developed nutrition recommendations for diabetes and associated complications based on scientific understanding and clinical experience, the benefits of eating a nutritious diet with diabetes involve:

  • Blood glucose levels are maintained in the normal range to avoid or reduce the risk for diabetes complications.
  • Reduce the risk for heart diseases and stroke.
  • Obesity, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension may be prevented and treated by changing nutritional consumption and lifestyle.
  • Boost your immune system by eating well and exercising daily.

Other Things to Consider

Diabetics must receive appropriate diabetes-related knowledge to boost patients' empowerment. Several studies have proven empowerment to promote behavioral changes, enhance emotional health, and expand health awareness, self-care, and management. Better nutritional knowledge has been linked to better glycaemic management in multiple studies since people with more dietary knowledge are more likely to make informed choices that are suitable for their health condition.

Over and above that, self-management behaviors are critical for achieving optimal glycemic control and preventing diabetes progression and complications. Effective interventions to empower individuals can help participants make significant improvements in their nutrition management and blood glucose self-monitoring.


Because there are so many types of diabetes, the risk is determined by the type of diabetes to which you are genetically predisposed. Understanding genetics can guide you in determining your risk level. Aside from genetics, lifestyle variables and environmental factors have a role in developing diabetes. If you have questions about your family history of diabetes, make an appointment with your doctor or head to Mednow, where they provide virtual consultations where a licensed doctor can offer medical advice, diagnose online or on the phone. They can refer you to other physicians for specialist care, order in-person lab work, or do blood work to monitor your blood glucose regularly.

This article offers general information only and is not intended as medical or other professional advice. A healthcare provider should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed, and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Mednow or its affiliates.

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