Diabetes type 1 is a form of the disease that is typically diagnosed in children. Now, scientists have shown that a gluten-free diet may be able to protect against the development of this disease, according to new research published recently in the journal Diabetes. The study done on laboratory mice revealed that this prevention resulted from changing the diet of the mothers when they were pregnant and during feeding of their offspring. Researchers hope that this might be applicable to humans as well, and if so, might represent a new strategy in preventing the disease.
Type 1 is more rare form of diabetes, affecting approximately five percent of those suffering from the disease. While type 2 tends to develop in adulthood when the body becomes resistant to the actions of the hormone insulin, type 1 typically starts in childhood. In this variant, the body produces an autoimmune response which destroys the beta-cells of the pancreas, resulting in an inability to produce insulin. Because of this, individuals affected by this disease must manage the symptoms for life by injecting insulin when required.
While there are specific genes that are considered risk factors for the disease, researchers know that there is a substantial environmental component as well. As identical twins only share the disease about 30 to 50 percent of the time, despite having 100 percent DNA similarity, there must be other factors that influence the development of Type 1. It has also been found in the past that there is a relationship between type 1 and celiac disease, a condition in which people are intolerant to the protein gluten. Approximately 10 percent of people suffering from type 1 also have celiac, a rate 10-times higher than found in the rest of the population. Because of this, scientists wanted to examine the role that gluten has in the development of type 1. Doing a study in mice, scientists at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark found that this form of diabetes could be prevented by a gluten-free diet given to mothers when pregnant and feeding their offspring.
Normally, type 1 develops at around 13 weeks of age in mice, However, by feeding moms a gluten-free diet during pregnancy and lactation, none of the mice pups developed the disease, and had changes to the bacteria in the intestines and reduced inflammation in the gut. This was maintained despite the fact that the pups themselves ate a diet that did contain gluten.
Of course, there have been many studies in which potential treatments found in animal research did not translate to the human condition, but researchers in this case feel optimistic about this new study. Not only might these findings help prevent the disease but it could also lead to new research on the development of type 1. As such, scientists may now seek to explore the link between the intestinal environment and the development or treatment of the disease in humans.
So while this may not be useful for people who currently suffer from type 1, the potential that diabetes may be prevented by a gluten-free diet offers hope that doctors could reduce the incidence of this disease in the future. Larger-scale trials will definitely be required to confirm this link in humans, but this finding offers scientists new avenues to explore prevention of the development of this disease in high-risk children.
By Bryan A. Jones