Key Takeaways

Genetic Influence on Diabetes: Genetics significantly influence the risk of developing diabetes, especially in type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes.

Type 1 Diabetes and Genetics: Type 1 diabetes often requires inheriting risk factors from both parents, with increased risk if a sibling or parent has the condition.

Susceptibility Loci in Type 1 Diabetes: Specific genetic loci like IDDM 1 and IDDM 2 are linked to an increased risk of type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 Diabetes – A Mix of Genetics and Lifestyle: Genetics play a role in type 2 diabetes, but lifestyle factors like diet and exercise are also crucial.

Gestational Diabetes and Genetic Factors: Gestational diabetes is influenced by both environmental and genetic factors, with a potential familial link.

Genome-Wide Association Studies (GWAS): GWAS are instrumental in identifying genetic markers associated with diabetes, particularly type 2.

CRISPR Technology in Diabetes Research: CRISPR gene-editing technology shows promise in developing future treatments or cures for diabetes.

Risk Factors Beyond Genetics: Additional risk factors for diabetes include age, lifestyle, and ethnicity, highlighting the disease’s multifactorial nature.

Prevention and Management: Adopting a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet and regular exercise, is key in preventing and managing diabetes, regardless of genetic predisposition.

Empowerment Through Knowledge: Understanding genetic risk while focusing on modifiable lifestyle factors is crucial in mitigating the risk of diabetes.

Diabetes is a complex disease that is common among many, affecting roughly 38 million people in the United States, which is 11.6 percent of the population. Knowing the overwhelming presence of diabetes, you may be wondering what your chances are of developing it. To understand this, we must consider what risk factors you have for diabetes. One such risk factor is genetics, which will be discussed in this article.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a long-term condition affecting how your body regulates blood sugar. When you eat food, that food is broken down into glucose, also known as sugars. From there, it enters the bloodstream, which is known as blood glucose, or “blood sugar”. When functioning appropriately, the body will communicate to the pancreas to increase insulin production in response to increased blood sugar levels. Insulin is a hormone that helps your body regulate blood sugar levels.

Diabetes is a condition in which the body either does not make adequate amounts of insulin or does not respond to insulin properly. In both of these scenarios, blood sugar remains high in the bloodstream. Going for an extended period with high blood sugar can cause severe health complications, including kidney disease, heart disease, eye problems, nerve problems, and more. Diabetes cannot be cured and only be managed through a combination of medication, diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes.

Is diabetes genetic?

There are several risk factors for diabetes depending on the type of diabetes you have. Three major types of diabetes exist, including type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes. Each of these may have a genetic component that contributes to your risk of having or developing that type of diabetes. Let’s review each of these types of diabetes and how genetics may contribute to their development.

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes accounts for five to 10 percent of individuals with diabetes. With type 1 diabetes, your body undergoes an autoimmune reaction, meaning that the body fights itself accidentally. In doing so, the body stops making insulin, which is critical to blood sugar control. Thus, those with type 1 diabetes require insulin every single day to manage their condition.

When it comes to genetics and type 1, an individual will typically have to inherit risk factors from both parents. Statistics show that children have a five to six percent risk of having type 1 diabetes if their father has type 1, and children have a three to four percent risk of type 1 diabetes if their mother has type 1. Similarly, a child has a five to six percent risk if their sibling has type 1 diabetes. Additionally, this chance heightens in identical twins with the risk rising to potentially more than 40 percent. Likewise, it is safe to assume that genetics play a role in type 1 diabetes.

Susceptibility loci are parts of a chromosome (part of your genes) that are passed down within families and are associated with a certain condition. They likewise may predict one’s risk of that condition in their family. Researchers have identified 20 susceptibility loci concerning type 1 diabetes, with the most important being the following:

  • Insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM) 1. One’s risk for type 1 diabetes is 40 to 50 percent in those with the IDDM 1 loci.
  • IDDM 2. One’s risk for type 1 diabetes is roughly 10 percent of the familial risk in those with IDDM 2 loci.
  • PTPN 22. The PTPN 22 gene locus is associated with slightly less than a 10 percent genetic risk of type 1 diabetes.

In addition to these susceptibility loci, type 1 diabetes correlates with several other types of autoimmune conditions. Specifically, it is associated with illnesses such as Graves’ disease (hyperthyroidism), Hashimoto’s disease (hypothyroidism), Addison’s disease (adrenal failure), celiac disease, and pernicious anemia.

Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes happens when the body cannot respond to insulin properly and thus cannot control blood sugar levels. It is the most common type of diabetes, which makes up 90 to 95 percent of those with diabetes. It usually begins in adulthood, although children are becoming increasingly susceptible to type 2 diabetes as well.

Type 2 diabetes correlates with family medical history and genetics, however, lifestyle and environmental factors can also play a huge role. In terms of genetics, having a close family member with type 2 diabetes means you are at increased risk of type 2 as well, likely because of shared genes. However, family can also affect your susceptibility to diabetes outside of genetics. Your family’s lifestyle can promote an environment that predisposes you to diabetes. For example, if you have shared poor exercise habits and diet, these are risk factors for diabetes. Thus, family influence can affect your risk outside of just pure genetics.

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes can occur in pregnant women who do not have pre-existing diabetes. In this instance, diabetes only occurs while you are carrying the baby, and it goes away after the baby is born. However, their gestational diabetes can be dangerous if not managed. For example, the baby is at risk for health complications, including obesity and diabetes later in life, and you are at increased risk of type 2 diabetes down the line. Thus, it is important to manage.

In terms of root cause, gestational diabetes can be the result of environmental and genetic factors. Though inheritance patterns are not entirely clear, researchers observe that those with gestational diabetes often have a close family member who has some type of diabetes.

Research in diabetes

Genome-wide association studies

Quite a bit of research has been done to characterize the genetic contributors to diabetes. One such research effort has been genome-wide association studies (GWAS). GWAS is a process in which researchers analyze certain markers within people’s DNA, looking for patterns and genetic variations that correlate with disease. By determining genetic associations, researchers can more accurately develop new medicines and treat and prevent disease.

GWAS have been conducted to help understand the potential genetic markers that contribute to the development of diabetes, particularly type 2 diabetes. One study, for example, evaluated several GWAS, accounting for 16 million genetic variants across over 60,000 type 2 diabetes patients and 596,000 non-diabetes patients. The study found 139 common and four rare variants that correlated with the presence of type 2 diabetes. Likewise, this information may be able to inform future treatment and prevention strategies.

There are also many advances in the realm of gene therapy research for diabetes, specifically with CRISPR technology. CRISPR stands for “clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats”. While traditional medicines usually work to target something within the pathophysiology of the disease as it manifests in the body, CRISPR works by editing a person’s actual genes. The CRISPR modality makes it so you can add, remove, or change existing genetic material at certain locations across one’s genome. This would be a very interesting therapy for those with diabetes, and some biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies have begun making strides. For example, two companies, Vertex and CRISPR Therapeutics, are currently combining forces to develop a gene-editing technology to try to cure type 1 diabetes. This project is in the very early stages, but the prospect of this potential cure is an exciting advancement.

Other factors contributing to diabetes

While genetics can certainly play a role in your chances of developing diabetes, there are also several other risk factors at play. Risk factors other than genetics for the different types of diabetes are listed below.

Type 1 diabetes

  • Although type 1 diabetes can develop at any age, it usually starts in children, adolescents, and young adults.

Type 2 diabetes

  • Having prediabetes
  • Having a sedentary lifestyle and exercising less than three times weekly
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Being 45 years of age or older
  • Being African American, American Indian, Hispanic or Latino, or Alaskan Native, as these groups are at higher risk
  • Having had gestational diabetes in the past
  • Having given birth to a baby greater than nine pounds
  • Having non-alcohol fatty liver disease

Gestational diabetes

  • Having gestational diabetes previously
  • Being more than 25 years old
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having had a baby more than nine pounds in the past
  • Being African American, American Indian, Hispanic or Latino, or Alaskan Native, as these groups are at higher risk
  • Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)


  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having a sedentary lifestyle and exercising less than three times weekly
  • Having had gestational diabetes previously
  • Being African American, American Indian, Hispanic or Latino, or Alaskan Native, as these groups are at higher risk


In summary, there is a correlation between someone’s genetics and their risk of diabetes. Genetic variants exist that are associated with diabetes, and we can tell from family inheritance patterns that family health history matters. Thus, if you have family members who have diabetes, you may feel discouraged knowing that you are at increased risk. The good news is that there are several modifiable risk factors that you can change to live a healthier life and prevent diabetes. For example, consider eating a well-rounded, nutritious diet, living an active lifestyle, and maintaining a healthy weight.

FAQ: Genetics and Diabetes

What is the Genetic Influence on Diabetes?

Genetics plays a significant role in the risk of developing diabetes. This influence is particularly notable in type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes, where genetic factors can significantly impact the likelihood of developing these conditions.

How Does Genetics Affect Type 1 Diabetes?

For type 1 diabetes, genetics are crucial. Typically, an individual must inherit risk factors from both parents. The risk increases if a parent or sibling already has the condition, indicating a strong genetic link.

What are Susceptibility Loci in Type 1 Diabetes?

Susceptibility loci are specific parts of genes associated with an increased risk of type 1 diabetes. Notable examples include IDDM 1 and IDDM 2 loci, which significantly raise the risk of developing type 1 diabetes.

Is Type 2 Diabetes Influenced by Genetics or Lifestyle?

Type 2 diabetes is influenced by both genetics and lifestyle. While having a close family member with type 2 diabetes increases risk due to shared genes, lifestyle factors like diet and exercise also play a crucial role.

Can Gestational Diabetes Be Genetically Inherited?

Gestational diabetes is influenced by a combination of environmental and genetic factors. Though clear inheritance patterns are not fully established, a familial link is often observed in those with gestational diabetes.

What Role Do Genome-Wide Association Studies Play in Diabetes Research?

GWAS are critical in identifying genetic markers associated with diabetes, especially type 2. These studies help in understanding the genetic variations that contribute to the disease, aiding in the development of targeted treatments.

How is CRISPR Technology Impacting Diabetes Research?

CRISPR technology, a form of gene editing, shows promise in diabetes research. It allows for precise modifications of genes, potentially leading to innovative treatments or even cures for diabetes types, especially type 1.

What are the Non-Genetic Risk Factors for Diabetes?

Beyond genetics, risk factors for diabetes include age, lifestyle choices, ethnicity, and pre-existing conditions like obesity and sedentary lifestyle, highlighting the multifaceted nature of diabetes risk.

How Can Diabetes Be Prevented and Managed?

Prevention and management of diabetes, regardless of genetic risk, involve adopting a healthy lifestyle. This includes maintaining a balanced diet, regular exercise, and monitoring health to manage or prevent diabetes effectively.

How Can Knowledge Empower Individuals at Risk of Diabetes?

Understanding the genetic risks and focusing on modifiable lifestyle factors are key to mitigating diabetes risk. Knowledge empowers individuals to make informed decisions about their health and lifestyle to prevent or manage diabetes.