Couple sleeping

Know Your Health: What Causes Snoring?

By LunaDNA Contributing Writer 

Snoring occurs when air can’t flow freely through the nose and throat.

As air fights to make its way through the airways, it jangles against the tissues in the nose and throat creating a snoring sound. Learn why people snore, and what can be done about it including:

Why Do People Snore?  

People who snore often have too much tissue in their noses and throats. The snoring sound is due to tissue vibrating in the upper airway, typically during inhalation. Most people don’t know they snore until someone tells them. Signs of snoring are: waking up with a headache or dry mouth, waking up suddenly in the middle of the night (and not from a nightmare), feeling tired during the day (even if sleeping a full night), waking up coughing or wheezing, or experiencing dental issues. 

While snoring is not an illness, it can be a symptom of a serious condition called sleep apnea, a disorder characterized by labored breathing, snoring, and gasps while asleep. In sleep apnea, the neck muscles relax, and the pathway for air to get to the lungs shuts down. At that point, the brain will usually send a signal that it needs more oxygen, which wakes up the snorer.  

Often snorers, especially those with sleep apnea, are unaware they are waking up, but they feel exhausted the following morning.  

What Causes Snoring? 

About 40 percent of men and 24 percent of women are prone to chronic snoring. Possible physical reasons for snoring include being overweight, enlarged tonsils or tongue, enlarged adenoids, elongated soft palate or cleft palate, or the shape of a person’s nose or jaw. Other factors that may contribute to snoring are nasal congestion or allergies, alcohol consumption, smoking, sleeping position, and sleep deprivation.  

The following are risk factors for snoring:

  • Being a man
  • Being overweight
  • Narrow or closed off airway
  • Narrow throat
  • Elongated soft palate
  • Cleft palate
  • Enlarged adenoids
  • Deviated septum
  • Nasal congestion or allergies
  • Sleep position
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Smoking
  • Having a family history of snoring or sleep apnea

Is Snoring Genetic? 

Chronic snoring isn’t necessarily genetic, but factors that contribute to snoring may have hereditary roots. Obesity, certain anatomical traits, and medical conditions like obstructive sleep apnea, can have a genetic component. These traits paired with non-genetic factors may increase a person’s risk of snoring.  

Parents that snore are three times more likely to have children that snore than parents that don’t snore. Even having a family member that chronically snores can be a contributing factor if it causes sleep deprivation (a risk factor in snoring). About 10 percent or more children snore on most nights. 

Snoring and Sleep Apnea — What Are the Signs of Sleep Apnea 

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious medical disorder that causes breathing to stop and start repeatedly throughout the night. If your parent has sleep apnea, you are at a higher risk of developing it. People with sleep apnea have an increased risk of developing insulin resistance, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, abnormal test results on liver function tests, and complications with medications and general anesthesia.  

Types of Sleep Apnea 

There are three main types of sleep apnea:

  • Obstructive sleep apnea is the most common type of sleep apnea. This occurs when throat muscles relax to the point of hindering airflow, either by the tongue falling into the back of the throat or some other physical obstruction.
  • Central sleep apnea is the least common form of sleep apnea and occurs when the brain doesn’t send a signal to the muscles that control breathing.  
  • Complex sleep apnea syndrome is the diagnosis for people with both types of sleep apnea (obstructive and central).  

Symptoms of Sleep Apnea 

Symptoms of sleep apnea (besides loud snoring) include: 

  • Gasping for air during sleep
  • Chest pains
  • Feeling excessively drowsy throughout the day
  • Irritability
  • Chronic headaches or sore throat
  • Dry mouth after waking in the morning
  • High blood pressure

Risk factors for sleep apnea include having a heart disorder; excess weight; nasal congestion; thicker neck circumference; a narrow throat; family history of sleep apnea; use of sedatives, pain medications, or alcohol that relax throat muscles; and smoking. Anyone that smokes is three times as likely to have sleep apnea than those who have never smoked. Smoking can increase inflammation and fluid retention in the upper airway.  

Snoring Solutions and Treatment 

Treatments for snoring run the gamut from non-invasive nasal breathing strips to invasive surgical procedures. Other non-invasive home remedies include sleeping on the side instead of the back, losing weight, avoiding alcohol and smoking, and treating allergies. Treatments for snoring that may require a prescription for insurance coverage are a mouth guard or a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine that prevents airway collapse. One of the most invasive remedies is surgery to remove the excess tissue in the airway. Success rates for surgery are good, but the procedure can be painful. Surgery is rarely used to treat snoring without sleep apnea. Your doctor can determine the best treatment option for you. 

Is Snoring Curable? 

Less snoring can be achieved with behavioral changes, treatments, and remedies. A diagnosis from a doctor or a specialist, such as an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor) is the first step. A diagnosis holds the key to determining if snoring is the issue or if it is a symptom of another condition. 

How to Stop Snoring 

To stop snoring, you must find the right combination of strategies. Some simple remedies to try include:  

  • Avoid sleeping on the back; sleeping on the side keeps the tongue from obstructing airflow
  • Lose that weight, especially if you weren’t snoring before gaining weight
  • Don’t drink alcohol before bedtime; make sure last call is at least four hours before you go to bed
  • Get at least seven hours of sleep at night; not getting enough sleep makes muscles floppy and leads to snoring
  • Try raising the head of your bed by four inches; if this doesn’t work, try a wedge pillow next
  • Kick the pets out of bed; pet dander can irritate your nasal allergies
  • Change out the bed pillow regularly to keep dust mites (that can lead to snoring) at bay
  • Hydrate by drinking plenty of water that helps keep nasal passages moist and unclogged by keeping phlegm flowing and less sticky

Luna is bringing together individuals, communities, and researchers to better understand life, including genetic traits like snoring. Directly drive health discovery by joining the Tell Us About You study. The more we come together to contribute health data for the greater good, the quicker and more efficient research will scale, and improve the quality of life for us all.  

Click here to get started.

Woman meeting with her doctor

Understanding Your Personal and Genomic Health: An Interview with Genome Medical

A few months ago, we partnered with Genome Medical to offer LunaDNA members access to their network of clinical genomic specialists to dig deeper into their health and DNA information.

Today, we’re chatting with Sheryl Walker, MS CGC to take a deeper look into the services they offer and how understanding your genetic makeup can help kickstart your health journey.

LunaPBC: Hi Sheryl Walker, MS CGC. Thanks for taking the time to chat with us today and share more about the amazing work you’re doing at Genome Medical. We’re excited to be partnering with you. In a nutshell, can you tell us more about Genome Medical and the services you offer to LunaDNA members?

Sheryl Walker, MS CGC, Genome Medical

Genome Medical: No problem, thank you for the opportunity! Genome Medical provides genetic counseling services by phone or video to individuals in all 50 states and has professionals with expertise in multiple areas of clinical care, including cancer, cardiology, reproductive, pediatric, pharmacy, and proactive genetic testing. LunaDNA members can schedule a one-on-one genetic counseling session in any of these areas to review their personal medical history and family medical history, discuss any appropriate diagnostic genetic testing, and get answers to specific questions they may have regarding previous test results. Diagnostic genetic testing can be informative for individuals with a diagnosis to guide treatment, aid in recommendations for future care, provide risk information for relatives, and more.  

LunaPBC: That’s wonderful. This is clearly beneficial for someone with health questions. It sounds like people can learn more about themselves and, importantly, take adequate preventative measures on their health journey. What if someone isn’t experiencing any health challenges? How might they benefit from speaking with a genetic counselor?

Genome Medical: That is an excellent question. As researchers continue to learn about how our genes impact our health and potential for disease, and as more consumers learn about the information their genes can provide, more individuals are seeking genetic information–including those who are healthy and unaffected by disease. While a person may not currently have a disease diagnosis, testing of their genes could reveal health risks and the potential for a future diagnosis. Many genetic diseases present earlier in life or family members will show signs and symptoms of a genetic disease that is being passed through a family, but this is not always the case. Many factors influence the manifestation of disease, including environment, lifestyle, age, and genetic factors. Even individuals who currently have a clean bill of health could have a risk for hereditary disease based on their family medical history or be found to have a genetic disease predisposition that may not show signs in standard health screenings. One such example is predisposition to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a hereditary disease that causes thickening of the heart muscle; this would not be identified unless a person was undergoing specific cardiovascular imaging. For several hereditary disorders, such as genetic predisposition to cancer risk, there are recommended screenings and management guidelines to help prevent a diagnosis and reduce risk. All individuals can benefit from reviewing their personal and family medical history with a genetic counselor. Even individuals who have no ‘red flags’ may be interested in and potentially benefit from clinical genetic testing and proactive health screening.  

LunaPBC: Last year, we commissioned the Harris Poll to conduct a survey across 2,000 Americans to better understand the relationship Americans have with consumer DNA test kits, including how informed they feel about how their DNA data will be used and general concerns with participation. We learned that roughly approximately one quarter of Americans are concerned about finding out they carry a genetic disease (24%) and that their insurance company could access their results (23%). What would you say to the population of people who have these concerns?

Genome Medical: As a genetic counselor, I feel strongly that genetic testing can be extremely beneficial, but also that genetic testing is a personal choice. I have found that patients will choose to learn about genetic testing at different times in their lives (e.g. not interested in their 30’s but become interested in their 40’s) and seek different amounts of genetic information. The discussion we have in their session helps determine how they want to proceed and what is going to be most beneficial for them. I think it is good to question one’s motivations for accessing genetic information and, even more importantly, to think about how one might use this information and how they would feel if they learned they carry a genetic predisposition to disease. Genetic testing does not change what already exists in our DNA, but the knowledge can change our awareness of predisposition and health risk.  

I often hear concerns about privacy and access to genetic information. Regardless of how genetic testing is being facilitated — be it through a research study, a direct-to-consumer DNA kit, or a diagnostic laboratory — it is important to know how your information and data are handled, accessed, stored, and what legal protections exist in relation to genetic information. The Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA), enacted in 2008, protects individuals from discrimination in health insurance and employment based on genetic test results. Some states have additional protections beyond GINA. However, the federal protections do not extend to private life insurance, disability insurance, or long-term care insurance. More information on this federal law can be found at ginahelp.org. Genetic counselors discuss this information during appointments, as it can impact decision-making about genetic testing.   

The role of the genetic counselor is to help navigate these issues and decisions and explain risks and testing in a way that’s easy to understand. Genome Medical is proud to be able to provide this type of precision medicine care in a convenient and affordable way to their patients.  

LunaPBC: Knowledge is truly power. We often get asked, ‘Why would I use Genome Medical’s services when I can order a test on my own through companies like 23andMe and AncestryDNA?’ I’m sure you get these questions, too. How do you best answer this?

Genome Medical: It’s important to understand the difference between consumer and diagnostic testing. While there are many different direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests available that a person can order themselves, diagnostic genetic testing can only be ordered by healthcare professionals like the genetic counselors and geneticists at Genome Medical. The testing performed by consumer companies typically uses SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) analysis that looks at predetermined sites in your genes. Most diagnostic genetic testing, however, is performed using next-generation sequencing which looks comprehensive across all sites in the genes. You can think of it this way: if one of your genes was a book, SNP analysis is like reading a single page, whereas next-generation sequencing reads the entire book cover to cover. Further, consumer tests typically do not incorporate personal medical history or family medical history in their offerings. Genetic counselors study this important information alongside diagnostic genetic test results to provide personalized insights and recommendations on health risk. Lastly, most consumer companies report extremely limited, if any, information on inherited disease risk, and, if they did report a finding (whether cancer risk-related or otherwise), the finding absolutely needs to be confirmed through diagnostic genetic testing before making any changes to medical care. If an individual has a strong family history of cancer or cardiovascular disease, they should seek genetic counseling and diagnostic genetic testing.

LunaPBC: So, in short, there’s a significant difference. As we can imagine, your clinical team of 40+ medical geneticists, genetic counselors, primary care doctors, pharmacists, and other specialists — who can provide medical services in all 50 states — puts you at an advantage to reach a wide network of people. How soon can a member speak with one of your Genetic Counselors once they become interested?

Genome Medical: Appointments are very convenient. We can see individuals by phone or video. Interested LunaDNA members can typically speak with a genetic counselor within 24-48 hours (limited weekend appointments are available). 

LunaPBC: This is a great opportunity. Is there anything else that may be important for LunaDNA members to know that we may not have already covered?

Genome Medical: As mentioned earlier, I think everyone can benefit from a thorough discussion of their personal and medical family history. However, it is important to recognize that, like other areas of medicine, genetics is subdivided into different specialties. The genetic counselors at Genome Medical have different areas of expertise, so if an individual is interested in learning more about cancer risk and discussing inherited cardiovascular diseases, this may be best addressed in two separate appointments. In order for our genetic counselors to best tailor your session to fit your specific needs, it always helps to have as much information as possible before your scheduled appointment; this can include filling out our intake survey, indicating specific questions you want to address, and uploading previous genetic test results to our portal for review. The health information in your LunaDNA account can be easily forwarded ahead of your appointment. Our medical practice is driven by our desire to provide the best genetic healthcare experience possible. We look forward to hearing from your members!  

LunaPBC: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Sheryl Walker, MS CGC, and for supporting us to encourage our members to take control of their health and their data.

If you are interested in scheduling a consultation with a Genome Medical genetic counselor, you can do so here.

About Genome Medical
Genome Medical is a national telegenomics technology, services and strategy company bringing genomic medicine to everyday care. Through our nationwide network of genetic specialists and efficient​ Genome Care Delivery​ technology platform, we provide expert virtual genetic care for individuals and their families to improve health and well-being. We also help health care providers and their patients navigate the rapidly expanding field of genetics and utilize test results to understand the risk for disease, accelerate disease diagnosis, make informed treatment decisions and lower the cost of care. We are shepherding in a new era of genomic medicine by creating easy, efficient access to top genetic experts. Genome Medical is headquartered in South San Francisco​. ​To learn more, visit www.genomemedical.com ​and follow ​@GenomeMed.​

About the Partnership
Since our partnership in April 2020, LunaDNA members across the United States can access a network of clinical genomic specialists — including medical geneticists, genetic counselors, pharmacists, and primary care doctors — to better understand their health and DNA information.

Interested in learning more about your personal and genomic health? Get started here.

Electronic Health Record Integration

Give More and Get More With Your Electronic Health Records

Now, you can directly contribute to research and earn ownership shares when you upload your digital health records to LunaDNA™ beginning today!

LunaPBC™, the public benefit corporation behind LunaDNA, reached a milestone today announcing our partnership with Medfusion. The partnership enables LunaDNA members to access electronic health records (EHR) privately and securely on LunaDNA via Medfusion’s Patient Data Application Program Interfaces (APIs). 

The ability to connect personal health records – doctor visit reports, lab test results, and more – with the LunaDNA platform is a giant step towards accelerating health discovery. For the first time, meaningful longitudinal data paired with genetic and lifestyle data will be available for researchers to drive discovery. Since your health data changes over time, combining it with your medication information, your exercise habits, and your genetics, is amazingly powerful for understanding disease and wellness.

Not only does access to health record information help researchers uncover new diagnoses and treatments, it also helps you manage your own well-being. By reviewing your own records on a regular basis, you can have more informed conversations with doctors and caregivers to take control of your health. Take the first step by connecting to your physician’s portals.

Connect Your Electronic Health Records – It’s Easy! 

If you haven’t connected to your Patient Portals yet, all you need to do is contact your doctor’s office and ask how to connect to the portal. They should provide you with a link and login information. From there, it’s pretty simple to log in and access your account and health records.

When connecting your health records to LunaDNA, all you need is the name of your doctor or doctor’s office and your portal login information. We have partnered with a company with over 15 years of experience in the healthcare industry to create and manage these integrations. Your data is synced to the LunaDNA platform, encrypted, and structured to enable downstream research aligned to our consent and privacy policies.  It is also available for you download and review at any time. 

If you need help connecting your EHR to LunaDNA, you can always contact our support team at support@lunadna.com or visit our Twitter status page for updates. 

Take the first step by connecting your Patient Portals to Luna here.

Is Lactose Intolerance Genetic

Is Lactose Intolerance Genetic? | How to Know If You’re Lactose Intolerant

Lactose intolerance has both genetic and non-genetic causes. Lactose intolerance can happen at any age. Learn the basics of lactose intolerance and how it could affect your health.

People with lactose intolerance are unable to fully digest sugars found in dairy products. There are many reasons people become lactose intolerant, and genetics may play a role.  According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, about 65 percent of the world population (or nearly 5 billion people) are lactose intolerant. In East Asia, the number is more than 90 percent.

Know Your Health: The Genetics of Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is the inability to eat dairy without having an adverse reaction. It occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough of an enzyme that aids in the digestion of sugars found in dairy. Learn about the different types of lactose intolerance, genetic disposition, how it is diagnosed, and how to manage it with this guide:

  • What is Lactose Intolerance?
    • Types of Lactose Intolerance
    • Lactose Intolerance Symptoms
    • Am I Lactose Intolerant?
  • What Causes Lactose Intolerance?
    • Is Lactose Intolerance Genetic?
    • Is Lactose Intolerance Inherited?
    • Can You Become Lactose Intolerant?
    • Lactose Intolerance Risk Factors
  • Lactose Intolerance Test — How It’s Diagnosed
    • Lactose Intolerance Management

What is Lactose Intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is the inability to fully digest sugars found in dairy products. Lactase is an enzyme produced in the small intestine that breaks down sugars in dairy products into the simple sugars glucose and galactose, which are absorbed into the bloodstream as fuel. Lactose-intolerant people do not generate enough lactase for the process to work.

With lactase in low production, the undigested lactose passes into the colon where it interacts with bacteria. This interaction causes the typical symptoms of lactose intolerance, which are bloating, gas, stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and sometimes vomiting.

Milk allergies, while similar, are less common and have symptoms with the potential to be far more severe with violent vomiting, bloody stools, and anaphylactic shock. Milk allergies often appear early in life, while lactose intolerance generally appears in adulthood.

Types of Lactose Intolerance

There are four distinct types of lactose intolerance. Two are genetically predisposed, one is often temporary, and the fourth is usually brought on by illness or injury.

  • Primary lactose intolerance is the most common type. Most people with primary lactose intolerance are genetically predisposed to significantly reduce lactase production between the ages of 2 and 5. As enzyme levels decrease, dairy becomes harder to digest and symptoms arise. Symptoms may not show until adulthood.
  • Secondary lactose intolerance is caused by an injury or illness. Any negative impact to the small intestine can cause less production of lactase. Diseases, such as Crohn’s and celiac, are commonly linked to this type of lactose intolerance. Surgery, medication, or chemotherapy can also hinder production of the enzyme. This type of lactose intolerance can be temporary or permanent.
  • Developmental lactose intolerance occurs in babies who are born prematurely. It usually resolves after the baby’s small intestines are fully developed.
  • Congenital lactose intolerance is the rarest type. It occurs when a baby is born with little to no lactase production in the small intestine. This genetic disorder can only be passed to a baby if both parents have the mutated gene.

Lactose Intolerance Symptoms

Symptoms and severity vary depending on the type of lactose intolerance and how much dairy was consumed. Typically, the following symptoms hit within a few hours of ingesting dairy:

  • Stomach cramps
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Nausea
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach rumbling

Am I Lactose Intolerant?

People who experience any of the symptoms listed above after eating dairy may be lactose intolerant. Whether you have one of the symptoms or all of them, you should seek medical treatment or advice from a physician if you are uncomfortable or over-the-counter medications do not work.

What Causes Lactose Intolerance?

The most common type of lactose intolerance, primary lactose intolerance, is the result of an inherited genetic trait that runs in families. When a baby stops breastfeeding, the genetic response is to decrease the expression of the LCT gene, which provides instructions for making lactase in the small intestine. When lactase-producing cells line the walls of the small intestine, they help absorb nutrients as food passes through. Without this enzyme, lactose is broken down by bacteria inside the colon, which causes the symptoms of lactose intolerance.

Is Lactose Intolerance Genetic?

The type of lactose intolerance a person suffers from determines whether genes play a role or not. For primary lactose intolerance, the most common form, genetics do play a role. Located within chromosome 2, the MCM6 gene helps control the activity or expression of the LCT gene.

The ability to tolerate lactose depends on the type of MCM6 variant a person has. The LCT gene follows the instructions provided by MCM6 and either produces adequate lactase to digest milk or not enough. For babies born with congenital lactose intolerance, the MCM6 gene is responsible to little or no lactase production at birth.

Can You Become Lactose Intolerant?

Lactose intolerance can be triggered by injury, illness, medication, or surgery. Any negative impact to the small intestine can trigger lactose intolerance. This type of lactose intolerance can be temporary or permanent. Primary lactose intolerance can set in later in life, usually once an individual reaches adulthood.

Lactose Intolerance Risk Factors

Lactose intolerance can happen at any time for a myriad of reasons. For example, taking antibiotics or having a bout of diarrhea can interfere with the small intestine’s ability to produce lactase. Below are the most common risk factors associated with having any of the four forms of lactose intolerance:

  • Crohn’s disease
  • Celiac disease
  • Injury
  • Surgery
  • Aging
  • Medication
  • Chemotherapy
  • Antibiotics
  • Diarrhea

Lactose Intolerance Test — How It’s Diagnosed

If you get the same symptoms after consuming dairy products, you should discuss the symptoms with your doctor. A doctor can administer a hydrogen breath test. Normally, hydrogen gas is barely detectable in the breath, but if you are lactose intolerant, you will have undigested dairy products fermenting in the colon, which produce hydrogen. The test takes about two to three hours and begins with drinking a lactose-heavy beverage. Afterwards, the patient’s breath is analyzed at regular intervals to determine the amount of hydrogen. Hydrogen is detectable at higher levels if someone is lactose intolerant.

Genetic tests are also available to analyze some forms of lactose intolerance. Additionally, a doctor can do more invasive procedures, such as an endoscopy, to view the inside of the intestines with a camera or take tissue samples from the inside of the gut.

Lactose Intolerance Management

While there is no cure for lactose intolerance, there are successful ways to manage the condition. The simplest way is to avoid dairy products that trigger bouts of discomfort. It’s still possible for some lactose-intolerant people to eat dairy products on occasion if a few rules are followed to avoid discomfort.

Eating small amounts of dairy products with other non-lactose foods can sometimes help you successfully deal with the side effects. The type of lactose-rich foods chosen can make a difference. Yogurt is generally easier to digest than milk. Supplements that help digest lactose are also available to take before eating dairy. Be sure to consult a doctor before adding any supplements to a diet.

Although great strides have been made in deciphering the genetics of lactose intolerance, more research needs to be done to better understand how to treat and manage the condition. As we understand more about the genetics of the human body, new research will lead to scientific breakthroughs to help people with lactose intolerance. You can directly contribute to health research with your unique health data, which enables the research needed to find treatments and cures to not only lactose intolerance, but other ailments as well.

What is Diabetes?

What is Diabetes? | Major Diabetes Risk Factors & Prevention

Is diabetes hereditary or acquired? What are the major risk factors of diabetes? Learn about diabetes, how to test for the disease, and prevention strategies.

If you’ve ever taken a home DNA kit, it’s likely that you were told it can measure the risk of developing a particular disease, like diabetes. But in fact, there’s only so much DNA kits can tell you about whether or not diabetes is in your present or future, as risks of such diseases come from many sources, not just genetic changes. Although valid studies are necessary to prove these tests provide accurate results, there’s one thing we do know for certain — your understanding of disease and overall health plays a vital role the quality of your life.

In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that diabetes and prediabetes affects more than 100 million U.S. adults. Although there is currently no cure for diabetes, there are treatments that can support people living with the disease.

Know Your Health: What Is Diabetes & Diabetes Risk Factors

Diabetes mellitus is more commonly known as diabetes and refers to the various groups of metabolic disorders, all of which affect how the body uses blood sugar, or glucose. There are multiple types of diabetes, but all involve excess sugar in the blood due to an abnormal metabolism of carbohydrates. When too much sugar remains in the blood, it causes multiple health complications. There are several types of diabetes, and while they all have similarities, they are also very different in terms of nuances, risk factors, and treatment options. Learn more about diabetes, prevention, and treatment by reading this guide.

What is Diabetes?

When you have diabetes, your blood sugar, or blood glucose, is too high. Blood sugar is the primary source of energy that comes directly from the foods we eat. The pancreas makes a hormone called insulin, which helps glucose get into cells so it can be used for energy. When the body doesn’t make enough insulin, glucose can’t reach your cells so it builds up in your blood. The causes of diabetes vary by types but they all result in excess sugar in the blood, which can lead to serious health problems if not corrected.

What Are the Different Types of Diabetes?

While there are several types of diabetes, the three that are most common are Type 1, Type 2, and gestational. Other less common types include monogenic and cystic fibrosis-related diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes occurs when your body isn’t making insulin because your immune system is attacking and destroying the insulin-making cells in your pancreas. If you’re diagnosed with Type 1, you need to take insulin every day. While Type 1 diabetes is typically diagnosed at a younger age in children or young adults, it can onset at any age.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body makes insulin, but it doesn’t make or use it well. This is the most common type of diabetes. When you have Type 2 diabetes, cells develop a resistance to the action of insulin, and as a result, your pancreas can’t keep up insulin production to keep your blood glucose level in a healthy range. Similarly to Type 1, sugar can’t move into cells and instead builds up in the bloodstream.

Type 2 diabetes can be diagnosed at any age. However, it is most often diagnosed during middle or older age.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes can occur during pregnancy, but often will go away after giving birth. However, if you develop gestational diabetes while pregnant, you are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes later in life.

Monogenic Diabetes

Monogenic diabetes is a rare type of diabetes that is inherited and results from single gene mutations, as opposed to Types 1 and 2, which are caused by multiple genes. The gene mutations are often passed from parent to child, but they can occasionally occur spontaneously.

The two most common types of monogenic diabetes are neonatal and maturity-onset diabetes of the young (MODY).

What Causes Diabetes?

Diabetes is caused by various factors depending on the type you have. Yet, despite the different causes, there are two important factors in all diabetes diagnoses: an inherited predisposition to the disease and an environmental trigger.

Type 1 Diabetes — While the exact cause of Type 1 diabetes is unknown, it’s believed that a combination of environmental factors (like viruses) and genetic susceptibility come into play. What is known is that Type 1 occurs when your immune system attacks or destroys the cells that produce insulin in the pancreas. Being overweight does not appear to be a factor in Type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes — The most common of all types, Type 2 diabetes is caused by genes and lifestyle factors, among other things. Family history, weight or obesity, and physical inactivity are also significant contributing factors. Most often, Type 2 diabetes starts with insulin resistance, which occurs when your body doesn’t process insulin well. The pancreas tries to make more insulin, but eventually cannot meet demand. Once this happens, your blood glucose levels rise.

Gestational Diabetes — Gestational diabetes is caused by hormonal changes that women experience throughout their pregnancy. Sometimes, these changes make cells more resistant to insulin. The pancreas tries to produce more insulin but is unable to do so adequately, and glucose stays in the blood rather than going to cells. Genetics and lifestyle can also play a role in whether or not a woman will develop diabetes during pregnancy.

Is Diabetes Genetic?

The genetic component of diabetes is complicated. With Type 1 diabetes, most people inherit risk factors from both of their parents. For example:

  • A male with Type 1 diabetes has a 1 in 17 chance of his child developing the disease.
  • A woman with Type 1 who has a child before age 25 will have a 1 in 25 chance of having a child with diabetes.
  • A woman with Type 1 who has a child after age 25 will have a 1 in 100 chance of having a child with diabetes.
  • If you were diagnosed before 11 years of age, your future child’s risk is doubled.
  • If both you and your partner have Type 1 diabetes, your children will have between a 1 in 10 and 1 in 4 chance of developing the disease.

If you have Type 1 and are Caucasian, it is likely you have a gene called HLA-DR3 or HLA-DR4, and if you share these genes with your child, he or she is at greater risk. Research done for other ethnicity groups has had similar findings, but are not as well-studied. The HLA-DR7 and HLA-DR9 genes may put African Americans and Japanese, respectively, at greater risk. Current research is aimed at predicting and understanding the odds of a child developing diabetes in relation to race, gender, and other factors.

Type 2 diabetes has a stronger link to family history but environmental factors play more of a role in this type. Twin studies have shown a strong connection in the development of Type 2 but environmental factors, such as obesity and exercise habits, also tend to run in families. If you have Type 2 diabetes, most likely it is due to both lifestyle and genetic factors. However, studies show that by exercising and losing weight, you can delay or prevent onset of Type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes Risk Factors

While we’ve examined how some risk factors might be inherited, other risks can be avoided with the right care and precautionary measures taken. Some of the top risk factors to note include, in no order of importance:

  • Inactivity
  • Weight
  • Poor diet
  • Age
  • Family history
  • Race
  • High blood pressure
  • Previous history of gestational diabetes

How to Prevent Diabetes

While Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented, there are multiple approaches that can be taken to reduce your risk of developing Type 2, with healthy lifestyle choices at the top of the list.

Eating healthy foods that are high in fiber and low in fat and calories is important. Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are great snack choices. In addition to a healthy diet, being sure to get plenty of physical exercise and losing weight are both critical if you are high risk. Just 30 minutes a day, at least five days a week, of moderate activity like a brisk walk, bike ride, or swim can make a huge difference in reducing your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes Diagnosis — How to Test for Diabetes

Multiple tests are used by a doctor to make a diagnosis of diabetes. A glycated hemoglobin, or A1C test, can indicate average blood sugar levels from the past several months. The A1C is a blood test that measures the percentage of blood sugar attached to hemoglobin, which is the protein that carries oxygen in red blood cells. A1C results can indicate the following:

  • 6.5 percent or higher — indication of diabetes; must be in this range on two separate test results
  • 5.7-6.4 percent — indication of prediabetes
  • 5.6 percent or lower — considered normal; no indication of diabetes

Other tests include a random blood sugar test that doesn’t account for last meals (meaning, no fasting is necessary) or a fasting blood sugar test that’s administered after an overnight fast. Another test administered is an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT), in which you fast overnight and your baseline blood sugar level is recorded in the morning, and again two hours after you ingest a sugary drink. The OGTT helps your doctor determine how your body processes sugar.

If a doctor suspects Type 1 diabetes, a urine test will be able to detect any presence of ketones, a byproduct that’s produced when fat breaks down. Another test that is used looks for destructive immune system cells called autoantibodies.

Common symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Excessive and increased thirst
  • Dry mouth
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Extreme hunger, particularly after eating
  • Unexplained weight loss despite regular eating
  • Frequent urination
  • Fatigue or feeling weak
  • Blurred vision
  • Irritability
  • Sores that won’t heal or are slow-healing
  • Gum or skin infections

What is the Treatment for Diabetes?

Managing a diabetes diagnosis is different depending on the type of diabetes you have. But in all cases, diet and exercise are important.

Monitoring blood sugar, carbohydrate counting, and taking insulin and oral medications may all play a role in treatment. All people with Type 1 diabetes and many people with Type 2 diabetes require insulin injections or an insulin pump. Although some people with Type 2 diabetes manage their condition through diet and exercise alone, many patients need diabetes medications as well.

For women diagnosed with gestational diabetes, keeping blood sugar levels under control is imperative to keeping the baby healthy and avoiding complications during delivery. Treatment during pregnancy might include monitoring blood sugar levels and possibly using oral medications or insulin. In most cases, gestational diabetes will resolve after a woman gives birth; however, the risk of developing Type 2 later in life increases after a gestational diabetes diagnosis. Women who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes should be screened for diabetes at least every three years after their blood sugar levels return to normal.

Diabetes, while not yet a curable disease, is treatable. And with over 2,000 clinical trials investigating new interventions, there are many possibilities on the horizon. While medication and lifestyle can play a significant role in treatment, continued genetic research and advancements in precision, or personalized, medicine offer amazing hope for those living with diabetes.

How To Get Involved In Diabetes Research

In December 2018, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission approved LunaDNATM to offer shares of ownership in the organization in return for health data. This made LunaDNA the first community-owned health and DNA data platform to exist. Our goal is to build a rich and robust health discovery platform dedicated to supporting research, advancing science, and accelerating medical breakthroughs.

Now, for the first time, people affected by diabetes can contribute their health data to LunaDNA’s secure platform. By uploading a personal DNA data file or even just taking a health survey, you can directly contribute to health research. The more people who come together to contribute health data for the greater good, the quicker and more efficiently research will scale, improving the quality of life for us all.

Luna is bringing together individuals, communities, and researchers to better understand life. Directly drive health discovery by joining the Tell Us About You study. The more we come together to contribute health data for the greater good, the quicker and more efficient research will scale, and improve the quality of life for us all.  

Click here to get started.