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Family Stress Linked to Autoimmune Diabetes in Children

Psychosocial stress induces stress in the child that is severe enough to trigger or promote the progression of beta-cell-related autoimmunity in infants. Psychological strain in families may be involved in triggering diabetes-related autoimmunity in infancy, as well as progression of the condition, according to new study findings. Moreover, the association is independent of any family history of diabetes.

As Dr. Anneli Sepa and colleagues from Linkoping University, Sweden, point out, "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 prospective 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 for analysis of type 1 diabetes-associated autoantibodies against tyrosine phosphatase and GAD.

Diabetes-related autoimmunity in the infants was independently associated with psychosocial factors such as high parenting stress (odds ratio 1.8, p < 0.01) and the experience of a serious life event (OR 2.3, p < 0.01). Associations were also observed with foreign origin of the mother (OR 2.1) and low paternal education (OR 1.6).

"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," Dr. Sepa’s team concludes.
Diabetes Care 2005;28:290-295
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