What exactly triggers the autoimmune system to self-destruct is not clear, but studies have implicated several viable theories. Environmental toxins, a virus, or a medication may be the final physiological straw for someone genetically predisposed to the disease.
Clinical studies have implicated a variety of different viruses in beta cell damage and the development of type 1 diabetes, including adenovirus, coxsackie B virus, mumps virus, enteroviruses, rubella virus, cytomegalovirus, parovirus, and Epstein-Barr virus. It's important to remember, however, that the overwhelming majority of people exposed to these viruses do not develop type 1 diabetes; specific genetic programming for the disease must also be present.
Exposure to cow's milk and cow's milk-based formula before one year of age has been linked to the development of type 1 diabetes in some studies, although other research has found no link. Study results are also mixed on the role of dietary proteins and their association with the development of autoimmunity and type 1 diabetes in both animal and human trials.
A blood plasma glucose test, either casual (any time of day) or fasting (no calorie-containing food or drink for the preceding eight hours), is used to diagnose type 1 diabetes. If the first test indicates diabetes, a second test on a subsequent day is required to confirm the diagnosis. Read more about these tests in detail.
In late 2006, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and several other governmental and advocacy organizations concluded patient recruitment for a large-scale, multinational study called TRIGR (Trial to Reduce Insulin-Dependent Diabetes in the Genetically at Risk).
TRIGR is the first large-scale, long-term study to assess the relationship of infant formula consumption in relation to the likelihood of developing type 1 diabetes in infants considered genetically at risk for developing the disease. The study will follow over 2,000 children from 15 countries through age 10, with the goal of determining with certainty the association, if any, between type 1 diabetes and milk proteins.
Other Causes of Beta Cell Destruction
Certain toxins, drugs, genetic defects, and diseases of the pancreas can also cause beta cell destruction, leading to diabetes mellitus. The occurrence of diabetes in this category is relatively rare — an estimated 1 to 5 percent of all diagnosed cases of diabetes according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). As such, their causes and specific treatments are not covered in this book.