Researchers have long suspected that stress may play a role in the development of type 1 diabetes. It’s also long been known that adolescents who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming experience greater psychological stress than other young people. But the combination of these two factors likely contributed to a result that was still shocking to many observers in a recent study: these youths had a rate of type 1 diabetes more than nine times higher than the overall rate in their age group.
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Published in the journal Pediatric Diabetes, the study at the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics used data from 2007 to 2017, looking at diagnoses of both type 1 diabetes and gender dysphoria in youths ages 10 to 21. For people with both conditions, information on their diagnosis, treatment and psychiatric history was also collected.
Overall, youths with gender dysphoria were 9.4 times as likely to have type 1 diabetes as the entire study group, with a rate of 2.5% compared with 0.3%. Out of the eight youths with both conditions, five visited the university’s gender dysphoria clinic and saw blood glucose improvement after their first visit — indicating that the stress of living with gender dysphoria plays a role in diabetes control, if not the risk of developing type 1 diabetes in the first place.
The researchers concluded that in youths with both gender dysphoria and type 1 diabetes, effective treatment for gender dysphoria — which may include hormone therapy — may reduce psychological stress levels and help improve blood glucose control.