According to the most recent JDRF e-letter, the number of annual new diagnoses of Type 1 Diabetes in Americans under the age of 20 years increases a whopping 20% between 2001 and 2009. Other countries on other continents are also witnessing upward trend. Scientific American cited research from the World Health Organization Conducted in 2006 that found rates of T1D were increasing in Asian countries by 4% annually and 3.2% in European countries annually.
It is easy to explain the increasing rates of Type 2 Diabetes, as that form of the disease is linked to obesity and lifestyle and it has been well publicized that the world is getting fatter. However, Type 1Diabetes is not caused by body weight or lifestyle. It is caused by an autoimmune disorder that attacks the pancreas. What triggers that autoimmune attack, however, is a mystery…and so are the increasing numbers.
The same Scientific American article notes that such increases are too great and have occurred in too small a time frame to be attributed to genetics. That leaves most scientists convinced that the culprit is environmental, something children are coming into contact with around the world.
Under this hypothesis falls several sub hypotheses. One such hypothesis, explains Francesco Egro, is based on the observation that T1D has increased while the incidence of pathogenic diseases have decreased in number–tuberculosis, measles, mumps, to name a few. The thinking is that the processes that regulate the immune system have turned off due to inactivity. Another theory centers upon a vitamin D deficiency caused by less exposure to sunlight (sunscreen use and increase in indoor lifestyles). Many scientists counter this theory by noting countries such as Kuwait, where there is no increase in Vitamin D deficiency, has seen similar increases in T1D as European countries. A final hypothesis correlates the increase of T1D with the decrease of breast-feeding. It is known that the cow’s milk in formula lacks some of the natural chemical’s in breast milk, but the role of those chemicals is unknown.
Offering an alternative, EAM Gale suggests a spring theory in which the incidence of Type 1 has not increased, but individuals are presenting at a younger age. But the question remains, why the diagnoses at a younger age?