Seattle researcher examines environmental causes for juvenile diabetes
Friday, March 7, 2003
By CAROL SMITH
SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
"The trend is disturbing: Juvenile diabetes, a disease that can cost people their kidneys, their eyesight, even their limbs later in life, has been steadily claiming more victims during the past few decades. And no one knows why....
"It can't just be genes," said Dr. Bill Hagopian, a researcher with the Pacific Northwest Research Foundation in Seattle. The number of children diagnosed with the disease has been increasing about 3 percent a year since 1980, he said. Hagopian recently received a five-year, $5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to help conduct the first large-scale attempt to discern the environmental factors that cause one kid to get juvenile diabetes, and another to grow up unscathed....
Researchers are still deciding which environmental factors to track, but they have some leads. "We think early exposure to non-breast milk proteins, especially those in cow's milk, may play a role," he said. "And gluten (a protein found in wheat). It's very clear if babies are exposed to gluten in the first three months, you have a much higher risk." Infants could be exposed to gluten in formula. Some preliminary studies indicate the risk increases five-fold. In addition, there is some evidence that exposure to Vitamin D, certain fatty acids, and some common gastrointestinal viruses, such as the coxsackievirus, may be linked to development of diabetes. Scientists believe it's something about early exposure that conditions the body to get the disease. For example, about one-third of children born to mothers who had German measles while pregnant end up with diabetes. "That tells you an exposure even as early as the womb can predispose to diabetes," Hagopian said."