How Does Diabetes Affect the Immune System?

How Does Diabetes Affect the Immune System?

Diabetes mellitus is a chronic metabolic disorder associated with elevated blood glucose (blood sugar). Despite the serious health risks that diabetes can pose, it affects an alarming number of people in the United States (more than 34 million).

However, having this medical issue doesn’t only affect your heart, kidneys, and brain, but it also has long-term and damaging effects on your immune system. Long-term uncontrolled diabetes weakens your immune system and increases your vulnerability to illnesses and infections.

But what is the reason for this? How does diabetes affect the immune system?

  • Diabetes impairs white blood cells’ ability to reach the site of infection.
  • Chronic hyperglycemia slows blood perfusion via blood vessels.
  • High glucose levels inhibit and suppress neutrophil synthesis.
  • Diabetes causes a reduced complement response
  • Bacteria thrive and grow in an environment of high blood sugar.

Here are the five primary ways diabetes can affect the immune system. You can prevent these issues from worsening by controlling and managing your blood sugar levels and keeping them within limits. Therefore, taking your medicines on time, eating a healthy diet, avoiding junk food, exercising, and staying hydrated can lower the threat presented by the above. 

Why does diabetes affect the immune system?

Photo of a medical staff member performing a telehealth appointment

When you have diabetes, the immune system starts attacking and destroying the beta cells located in the pancreas. Ultimately, this leads to a lack of hormone insulation, which means that the sugar glucose level in the blood can’t be controlled. 

Though diabetes is still a considerable health risk to people worldwide, there’s a lack of understanding about it. Researchers and scientists are still trying to discover why immune cells attack insulin-producing cells

Without an in-depth or comprehensive understanding of this, it’s challenging to determine why diabetes affects your immune system. However, with more clinical research studies around this topic happening worldwide, we can soon develop a better understanding of this and reduce its severity. 

How to boost your immune system even if you have diabetes

Your immune system is an incredible bodily function that ensures that you’re healthy and fighting off diseases. When it becomes weaker because of diabetes, you need to take extra measures to ensure it’s boosted. Doing this will help you reduce the number of times you’re sick, improving your lifestyle immensely. 

One of the most prominent ways to increase the stress on your immune system is by lowering stress. High levels of stress can cause your immune system to become weaker and make those with stress frequently ill. 

There are several ways you can approach this. Having a good diet, active life, and meditation classes can help. Other methods for strengthening the immune system include:

  • Stop smoking
  • Avoid drinking too much alcohol
  • Enhance your sleeping patterns
  • Have a well-balanced diet rich in whole foods
  • Obtain adequate vitamin D

Protect your immune system

Now that you understand how diabetes affects the immune system, it’s time to get protected. Guarantee you’re living a healthy, active life that includes a well-rounded diet. These small actions can help reduce the severity of the illness and lower the problems that can occur. 

Risk of Developing Type 1 Diabetes

Risk of Developing Type 1 Diabetes

The CDC predicts that 37.3 million Americans have diabetes, making it one of the most common chronic diseases in the United States. Out of these people, 1.45 million have type 1 diabetes. 

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic autoimmune disease where your pancreas can’t produce insulin. As a result, those with the illness must perform daily management for blood sugar monitoring and insulin injection. 

Because it’s a disease many people in the States have, it’s essential to know the risk of developing type 1 diabetes. Understanding this can help prevent its more severe effects and damage. 

Risk factors for type 1 diabetes

photo of a medical professional passing a continuous glucose monitor to a patient

Type 1 diabetes (also known as insulin-dependent diabetes) is a genetically-driven disease. Therefore, the three primary risk factors of this illness include: 

  • Age – Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age. However, it generally develops in younger adults and children. 
  • Genetics – Certain genes might increase the likelihood of developing type 1 diabetes (known as HLA-DQA1, HLA-DQB1, and HLA-DRB1). A doctor can test for these genes.
  • Family history – Having close family members with type 1 diabetes raises the chance of getting the disease. The risk increases if both parents have type 1 diabetes.

As seen, the risk of developing type 1 diabetes is limited. Unlike type 2 diabetes, type 1 isn’t developed from lifestyle choices. Anybody is susceptible to type 1, regardless of their healthy, active lifestyle. 

What causes type 1 diabetes

Insulin-dependent diabetes occurs when your immune system mistakenly targets and eliminates insulin-producing cells in your pancreas. This destruction can unfold over months or years, eventually leading to insulin deficiency.

Although scientists are unsure of the origin of Type 1 diabetes, they believe it has a significant genetic component. A study produced by Pediatr Diabetes suggests that the general risk of this disease is 0.4%. However, children with type 1 diabetes have an average lifetime risk of 6-7%.

But we must note that it’s well-documented that scientists have mentioned that environmental chemicals (Air pollution, tobacco smoke, etc.) might trigger or accelerate the development of type 1 diabetes.

Is type 1 diabetes preventable?

Though scientists are working on ways to slow down or prevent the progression of insulin-dependent diabetes, it’s still undiscovered. Therefore, you can do little to avoid Type 1 diabetes. 

However, there are methods to reduce the severity of the illness:

  • Monitoring and managing your blood sugar levels effectively 
  • Following your doctor’s advice on how to live a healthy lifestyle
  • Getting regular health check-ups that showcase your overall wellness and seeking improvement 

These are the only ways to decrease the damage of type 1 diabetes. But remember, it will never prevent it. 

Additionally, if you’re diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, you must get educated on self-management. Knowing about the disease can undoubtedly reduce the risks involved.


After reading the above, you should understand the risk of developing type 1 diabetes. As you now know, this disease is genetically driven. Therefore, it’s more likely to affect those that already have the illness in the family. 

If you’d like to learn more about becoming a pioneer in diabetes research you can check out our current studies at the link below.

Diabetes: What happens if left untreated?

The Progression of Diabetes

Diabetes is a progressive disease and making some simple choices can drastically change your outcome if addressed early. Ignoring type 2 diabetes is life-threatening!  Talk to your doctor and manage your type 2 diabetes to live a long and healthy life!

Unmanaged type 2 diabetes leads to: 

    • Fat build-up in your liver also known as fatty liver disease 
    • Eye diseases like cataracts and glaucoma, retinopathy, possibly blindness 
    • Nerve damage and skin infections that may require limb amputation 
    • Heart damage doubling the risk of heart attack and stroke 
    • Kidney damage requiring regular dialysis and possibly a transplant  
    • Irreversible erectile dysfunction 
    • Dental problems such as gum disease and mouth ulcers 
    • Increased odds of getting Alzheimer’s disease 


Let’s Break Down The Information…

Untreated diabetes

How common is diabetes?

Diabetes is a progressive disease and making some simple choices can drastically change your outcome if addressed early. Ignoring type 2 diabetes is life threatening! 

Infographic of a breakdown of diabetes

Eating healthy while keeping track of your BMI and A1C can help reduce your risk of complications related to diabetes!

Clinical trial researchers partner with study participants to help advance science in the treatment of diseases.

Before enrolling in a study, we encourage you to talk to your family and consult with your doctor about any questions you may have. When you’re ready, one of our highly trained team members will guide you through the process every step of the way. We have English and Spanish-speaking team members ready to help you and answer any questions or concerns you may have.