Scientists know that type 1 diabetes (T1D) is caused by the immune-mediated destruction of insulin-producing pancreatic beta-cells. However, what they do not know is what exactly causes this process to occur. Many agree that it may be the result of both genetic and environmental factors.
A recent study examined the potential impact of gluten intake on diabetes risk. The study analyzed gluten intake by women around 22 weeks of pregnancy and the gluten intake of their offspring at 18 months of age. Participation was voluntary, and data was collected by a Norwegian observational nationwide cohort study from 1999 to 2008. In total, data from 86,306 children were gathered, and throughout the duration of the study, 346 children developed T1D.
The study found no significant relationship between the amount of gluten consumed by mothers during pregnancy on the child’s T1D risk. However, it did find that children who consumed higher levels of gluten at 18 months of age may be at greater risk of T1D. Follow-up ended on April 15, 2018, or upon diagnosis of T1D, whichever came first.
Mothers filled out a food frequency questionnaire at around week 22 of their pregnancy, and then they filled out a questionnaire for their child when they reached 18 months of age. Women who were previously diagnosed with T1D or celiac disease were excluded from the study, and children who developed type 2 diabetes or who consumed more than 35 grams of gluten per day at 18 months of age. The results were adjusted to account for children who were later diagnosed with celiac disease.
Overall, 0.4% of children were diagnosed with T1D, and of those children, there was islet autoantibody information available for 76% at the time of diagnosis, and 92% were positive for at least one islet autoantibody (for insulin, glutamic acid decarboxylase, or IA2).
The results of this study differ from those of a previous study that showed material gluten intake was potentially statistically significant in terms of risk. However, the current study looked at several different factors and outcomes and adjusted data accordingly.
Additional extensive studies need to be conducted to support further or refute these findings. The result of this particular study should not be used as a basis for altering dietary recommendations for women who are pregnant or young children in order to avoid type 1 diabetes, but rather something to be taken into consideration as future studies are developed.
The Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) is interested to see what other extensive studies find concerning gluten intake and diabetes risk. Though not involved in this study, the DRC provides critical funding for early-career scientists pursuing novel research around type 1 diabetes. To learn more about current projects and how to help, visit https://diabetesresearchconnection.org.
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