Why diet, a healthy Immune System and hand washing may help prevent Diabetes. Here is what triggers diabetes and what you can do to prevent it.

Type 1 diabetes, once known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin, a hormone needed to allow sugar or glucose to enter cells to produce energy. The far more common type 2 diabetes occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin or doesn’t make enough insulin.

Various factors may contribute to type 1 diabetes, including genetics and as we are learning, exposure to certain viruses. Although type 1 diabetes usually appears during childhood or adolescence, it also can begin in adulthood.

Diabetes is a devastating disease, especially when it affects children. Type 1 diabetes accounts for about 5-10% of total cases of diabetes worldwide [4] and is the leading cause of blindness. Other side effects include cardiovascular disease, stroke, kidney damage and amputations. Type 2 diabetes is completely preventable through diet and exercise, and, with new research we may find that some cases of type 1 diabetes may also be preventable.

A recent study in Taiwan has shown a correlation between Type 1 diabetes and viral illness, specifically enterovirus D68. [1]

After observing a rise in Type 1 diabetes following an endemic outbreak of enterovirus (EV), researchers in Taiwan conducted a nationwide study. The participants included over a million Taiwanese children – 570,130 children with a documented diagnosis of EV from 2000-2008 and 570,130 children who had not contracted the virus. Their goal was to assess whether the increase in diabetes could be related to the viral outbreak since genetics could not explain the increase given the short period of time in which the increase in diabetes was observed. [1]

Their findings were both shocking and significant. The group of children with EV, showed a 50% increase in risk of developing Type 1 juvenile onset diabetes over the control group.

The Taiwanese findings have been supported by other studies. A significant number of viruses have been associated with type 1 diabetes, including enteroviruses such as Coxsackievirus B (CVB) [5], but also rotavirus [8,9], mumps virus [10], and cytomegalovirus [11]. Rubella virus has been suggested to cause type 1 diabetes, but so far only congenital rubella syndrome has conclusively been associated with the disease [12-14]. The prime viral candidates for causing type 1 diabetes in humans are enteroviruses. Enterovirus infections are more frequent in siblings developing type 1 diabetes compared with nondiabetic siblings, and enterovirus antibodies are elevated in pregnant mothers whose children later develop type 1 diabetes [15]. Interestingly, studies in the Finnish population demonstrated that appearance of autoantibodies in genetically susceptible children paralleled the seasonal pattern of enterovirus infections [16].

Although the Taiwanese study is the first nationwide retrospective cohort study on the association between type 1 diabetes and EV infection there are two other diabetes studies, The worldwide DIAMOND Project [2] and the EURODIAB [3] multicenter prospective registration study in Europe showed an accelerating epidemic of type 1 diabetes across ethnicities and geographic areas.

These studies may lead scientists in a new direction of treatment for diabetes. Some have suggested vaccines to prevent viruses but, with over 100 strains of enterovirus that prospect seems daunting and a growing number of people, including doctors are questioning the efficacy of vaccines.

Epidemiological studies have identified environmental factors operating early in life that appear to trigger the immune-mediated response and may initiate pancreatic beta cell destruction.

Potential Triggers of Diabetes

  1. Cow’s milk – children who are given cow’s milk which contains foreign proteins as well as bovine insulin showed a higher propensity toward developing type 1 diabetes [17]
  2. Wheat/gluten – gluten has been demonstrated to initiate immune responses not only in celiac disease but in type 1 diabetes and a gluten-free diet has in some patients led to remission of type 1 diabetes [18,19]
  3. Vitamin D deficiency – vitamin D deficiency has been found to be a reversible cause of type 1 diabetes [20,21]
  4. Absent or limited breastfeeding – babies who are breastfed have a lower risk of developing diabetes due to better immune systems. [20,21]
  5. Medications – while most children do not require drugs it is noteworthy to mention that diuretics, anti-seizure drugs, psychiatric drugs, some drugs used to treat (HIV), Pentamidine used to treat a type of pneumonia and glucocorticoids can impair beta cells or disrupt insulin action. [22]
  6. Toxins – a mother’s exposure during pregnancy, or infants exposure to toxins my predispose the baby to increased risk of diabetes [22]
  7. Gestational diabetes – high blood sugar during pregnancy may cause type 2 diabetes the mother and for the child later in life and the child may be more prone to infections that could trigger type 1 diabetes. Women with gestational diabetes have a 50% chance of developing diabetes within 10 to 20 years of delivery. [23]

Diabetes Preventive Measures

  1. Good hygiene – We all learned this as children. Wash your hands, don’t touch your face or nose, and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Clean surfaces that may be contaminated such as light switches, doorknobs, and computer keyboards and phones. When shopping remember to clean the handle of your shopping cart. Another key germ-busting strategy: “If your child does get sick, throw out her toothbrush right away,” says Barbara Rich, D.D.S., a spokesperson for the Academy of General Dentistry. A child can’t catch the same cold or flu virus twice, but the virus can hop from toothbrush to toothbrush, infecting other family members. If it’s a bacterial infection, such as strep throat, however, your child can reinfect herself with the same germs that got her sick in the first place. In that case, tossing the toothbrush protects both your child and the rest of your family.
  2. Maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy.
  3. Breast feed your baby – One of the single most important things you can do for your child is to breast feed. Breast milk contains turbo-charged immunity-enhancing antibodies and white blood cells. Nursing guards against ear infections, allergies, diarrhea, pneumonia, meningitis, urinary-tract infections, and sudden infant death syndrome. Studies show that it may also enhance your baby’s brain power and help protect her against insulin-dependent diabetes, Crohn’s disease, colitis, and certain forms of cancer later in life. Colostrum, the thin yellow “premilk” that flows from the breasts during the first few days after birth, is especially rich in disease-fighting antibodies, says Dr. Charles Shubin, M.D., an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland, in Baltimore. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that moms breast-feed for a year. If this commitment isn’t realistic, aim to breast-feed for at least the first two to three months in order to supplement the immunity your baby received in utero.
  4. Grow your own food or eat organic to avoid toxins which may trigger an immune response.
  5. Serve more fruits and vegetables – Carrots, green beans, oranges, strawberries: They all contain such immunity-boosting phytonutrients as vitamin C and carotenoids, says William Sears, M.D., author of The Family Nutrition Book (Little Brown, 1999). Phytonutrients may increase the body’s production of infection-fighting white blood cells and interferon, an antibody that coats cell surfaces, blocking out viruses. Studies show that a diet rich in phytonutrients can also protect against such chronic diseases as cancer and heart disease in adulthood. Try to get your child to eat five servings of fruits and veggies a day. (A serving is about two tablespoons for toddlers, 1 cup for older kids.)
  6. Include sea vegetables in your diet – Sea veggies such as brown seaweed are not only rich in phytonutrients like chlorophyll; they are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, fatty and amino acids and contain a nutrient called fucoidan not found in any land-based plants. Fucoidan is a powerful immune modulator and has been compared to mother’s milk in its ability to improve immune function. In addition, fucoidan stimulates the production of insulin and provides pancreatic protection. Studies show a potent anti-pathogenic effect toward bacteria, protozoa, prions, endotoxins and a wide variety of viruses, including enterovirus and coxsackievirus. While it’s hard enough to get the kids to eat vegetables they are used to and even to most adults, seaweed doesn’t sound appetizing, there are companies with seaweed extractions mixed with fruit juices that offer an alternative to eating a plateful of seaweed. Parents just need to look at options. [24-30]
  7. Avoid dietary triggers like wheat, gluten, processed foods like cereals, and cow’s milk.
  8. Consider probiotics to boost immune function and gut health.
  9. Ask your doctor about supplements such as Vitamin D and get at least 20 minutes a day of sun exposure.
  10. Boost sleep time – Studies show that sleep deprivation can reduce natural killer cells which attack microbes and cancer cells and make you more susceptible to illness. Human growth hormone (HGH), which is important to both growth and immune function is produced during deep sleep. Children in day care are particularly at risk for sleep deprivation because all the activity can make it difficult for them to nap. How much sleep do kids need? A newborn may need up to 18 hours of cribtime a day, toddlers require 12 to 13 hours, and preschoolers need about 10 hours. “If your child can’t or won’t take naps during the day, try to put her to bed earlier,” says Dr. Kathi Kemper, M.D., director of the Center for Holistic Pediatric Education and Research at Children’s Hospital, in Boston.

While childhood diabetes is on the rise in many countries and more research into environmental factors needs to be investigated, with the current research we now have available, it appears education, preventive practices such as better nutrition and hygiene, a more holistic approach and common sense may very well be the more powerful and pragmatic solutions to curtailing and eradicating childhood diabetes.

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