Type II Diabetes – Genetic Connections

According to the American Diabetes Association, 9.3% of the US population has diabetes (2012 numbers).  Diabetes was the 7th leading cause of death in the US in 2010.  The genes involved in increasing risk for type-2 diabetes indicate some of the variations in causes: insulin release, metabolic syndrome, response to sugar, and zinc deficiency.   Knowing how you are genetically susceptible to diabetes may help you to modify your diet appropriately.

Genes involved in type-2 diabetes:

SLC30A8 gene:

A zinc transporter gene, SLC30A8, has been identified as being associated with type 2 diabetes in a number of different studies.  Insulin contains a high amount of zinc, and zinc is also involved in other functions in the pancreas.  Zinc is believed to play an important role in insulin production and secretion. Higher plasma concentrations of zinc are associated with a lower risk of diabetes – especially for those without the SLC30A8 polymorphism [ref].    There are several studies on the influence of zinc supplementation with regards to diabetes and the SLC30A8 polymorphism.[1, 2, 3]  The SLC30A8 polymorphism is associated with reduced insulin secretion, but not with insulin resistance. [ref]

There are quite a few new research studies on this gene.  One study from 2014 states that (emphasis added):  “As expected, a strong interaction was observed for the SLC30A8 rs13266634 variant and plasma zinc concentrations in relation to T2D and IGR&T2D. The inverse association between increasing plasma zinc concentrations and T2D could significantly attenuate in the C/T and C/C genotype groups compared within the T/T genotype group. We also observed that the association between the C/C genotype and T2D was mitigated by increasing plasma zinc concentrations.”

Check your 23andMe results for rs13266634:

  • T/T: normal risk for type 2 diabetes
  • C/T: somewhat higher than normal risk for type 2 diabetes
  • C/C:  1.5 – 3x higher risk of type 2 diabetes [ref]

For zinc, the U.S. recommended daily allowance is 11 mg/day for men and 8 mg/day for women.  Zinc supplementation can interact with other minerals.  The University of Oregon has a good resource for more information on types of zinc and interactions: Linus Pauling Institute Zinc.

HHEX gene:

HHEX (homeobox) is another gene with polymorphisms that are associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.  The HHEX protein interacts with signaling molecules and plays a role in embryonic development of the liver, thyroid, and pancreas.  A European study in 2007 found that rs7923837 was associated with impaired glucose-stimulated insulin response. [ref] [ref]


Check your 23andMe results for rs7923837:

  • G/G: 3.2x risk for type 2 diabetes
  • A/G: 1.9x risk for type 2 diabetes
  • A/A:  normal risk of type 2 diabetes

Check your 23andMe results for rs1111875:

  • G/G: increased risk for type 2 diabetes (OR = 1.36) [ref]
  • A/G: increased risk for type 2 diabetes (OR =1.16)
  • A/A:  normal risk of type 2 diabetes

TCF7L2 gene:

A strong genetic risk factor for type 2 diabetes is a polymorphism in the TCF7L2 gene.  It is thought that the TCF7L2 gene is involved in controlling blood sugar levels. It plays a role in adipogenesis (formation of fat cells), and it has been associated with glucose intolerance and impaired insulin secretion. [ref]

Check your 23andMe results for rs7903146:

  • T/T: 2x increased risk of type 2 diabetes [ref]
  • C/T: 1.4x increased risk of type 2 diabetes
  • C/C:  normal risk of type 2 diabetes

KCNJ11 gene:

One more gene associated with type-2 diabetes is the KCNJ11 gene.  The KCNJ11 gene codes a protein involved in insulin release.  Sugar (glucose) activates this protein which releases insulin from the pancreas.  The T allele gives a decreased insulin response to glucose. It is also associated with plasma leptin levels. [ref] [ref]

Check your 23andMe results for rs5219:

  • T/T: 2.5x increased risk of type 2 diabetes
  • C/T: 1.3x increased risk of type 2 diabetes
  • C/C:  normal risk of type 2 diabetes

More to read:


Author Information:   Debbie Moon
Debbie Moon is the founder of Genetic Lifehacks. She holds a Master of Science in Biological Sciences from Clemson University and an undergraduate degree in engineering from Colorado School of Mines. Debbie is a science communicator who is passionate about explaining evidence-based health information. Her goal with Genetic Lifehacks is to bridge the gap between the research hidden in scientific journals and everyone's ability to use that information. To contact Debbie, visit the contact page.