During my research of my family’s heritage, I came across an alarming connection of diabetes within my family that can be traced back at least 4 generations on my Smouter family tree branch. As I was only 6 years old when my grandmother, Jennie Marie Smouter Reyst, passed away, I never knew that she was diabetic until I started delving into the history of my family tree members.  In fact, Jennie’s diabetes was a major contributing factor in her death.  So once again, another one of those pertinent family history questions always asked on medical information forms that I had always answered “no”.

As I accumulated records to verify birth and death information, I discovered diabetes was also listed as a primary or contributing cause of death of all my grandmother’s siblings who lived beyond infancy, with the exception of one, her sister, Neeltje (Nellie) Smouter Panke. Her mother, Adrianntje (Adrianna) Andeweg Smouter, and also her aunt, Fijgje (Fay) Andeweg Elzerman, both suffered from diabetes, which is listed as the primary cause of both of their deaths. According to the research I found online, Type 1 (insulin dependent) diabetes mellitus is not common among generations of family members.  In other words, there is no proven documentation that there is a genetic connection for Type 1 diabetes. So I am assuming that my great-grandmother, great-great aunt, grandmother, great uncle and 2 great aunts must have all suffered from NIDDM (Type 2 Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus). One might assume that the diet of all 6 of these families members was the primary factor which contributed to this ailment, as the first and second generation Dutch immigrants tended to eat a diet that was high in fat.  Favorite foods included pork, cold cuts and sweets, especially pastries.  But recently I learned that 2 fourth generation cousins also were diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.  This raises the suspicion that there may be some genetic predisposition for NIDDM that compounded with environmental factors – such as a diet high in fat and cholesterol – puts family members, both within and among generations, at a higher risk for becoming diabetic.  There is some research that seems to be supporting this theory.  This same research also indicates that genetic predisposition alone does not tend to result in the occurence of diabetes among family members, both within and among generations. 

I have taken this recent enlightened medical discovery within my family history to heart and have embarked on my own recent endeavor to eat healthier and exercise more frequently. To learn more about the risk factors, treatment and prevention of Type 2 diabetes mellitus, I recommend that you check out the American Diabetes Association, as we celebrate Diabetes Awareness Month during November.