Psychological strain within families may help trigger diabetes-related autoimmunity in infants, as well as accelerate the progression of the disease in children who are already diagnosed with diabetes, according to new study findings. Moreover, researchers found that this association is seen even in families without a history of diabetes.
As Dr. Anneli Sepa and colleagues from Linkoping University, Sweden, point out in Diabetes Care that “a number of disparate environmental factors (including experiences of serious life events) have been proposed as trigger mechanisms for type 1 diabetes or the autoimmune process behind the disease.” They hypothesized that psychosocial stress in families “may affect children negatively due to a link to hormonal levels and nervous signals that in turn influence both insulin sensitivity/insulin need and the immune system.” To examine this idea, the researchers studied the first 4400 consecutive 1-year-old children from a large population-based study. Parents of the children completed questionnaires at birth and 1 year on several measures of psychosocial stress and socio-demographic background. The infants had blood samples drawn at age 1 to look for type 1 diabetes-associated autoantibodies. Infants with diabetes-related autoimmunity were more likely to have negative psychosocial factors, such as parents with high stress levels or families that had experienced a serious life event. This association was also observed in children with foreign-born mothers or with fathers who had low education levels. “Our results support the view that psychosocial stress in the family induces stress in the child that is severe enough to trigger or promote the progression of beta-cell-related autoimmunity in infants,” Sepa’s team concludes. (Source: Diabetes Care: Reuters Health: February 2005.)