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May 23, 2014 by MAE CHAN
Gluten-Free Diet During Pregnancy Protects Offspring From Type I Diabetes

Consumption of a gluten-free diet during pregnancy may be correlated to the health of offspring, and in particular their risk of developing type 1 diabetes, according to new research.

It's known that some people have a predisposition to diabetes either through mechanisms including toxicity in utero, or shortly after birth, but there's something which triggers it that is happens from outside the body and researchers have made many assumptions including vaccines, formula, maternal dietary patterns and other environmental triggers which could be the cause.

Quite a bit of controversy among researchers has centered on whether this trigger might be the protein in cow's milk or wheat gluten, the concentrated form of the protein contained in wheat flour that's sometimes used in infant cereals. Two previous studies appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association seem to point the finger at the latter. But some diabetes experts say that conclusion may be premature.

Celiac disease is 5-7 percent more common in people with type 1 diabetes than in the general population. Both are autoimmune diseases, but celiac disease is not more common among people with type 2 diabetes than in the general population.

There are as many health risks associated with the consumption of wheat as there are nutritional benefits claimed by the wheat industry. Many are asking why there continues to be such a strong emphasis on the development of wheat and gluten-based products all over the world when there are so many adverse and crippling effects such as neurological impairment, dementia, heart disease, cataracts, diabetes, arthritis and visceral fat accumulation, not to mention the full range of intolerances and bloating now experienced by millions of people?

Infants who are susceptible to diabetes and fed cereal before they were 4 months old or after the age of 6 months, have a higher risk of developing antibodies to the islet cells of the pancreas.

These islet cells are responsible for producing insulin, the hormone that ushers glucose into individual cells. The immune systems of people with type 1 diabetes -- formerly called juvenile onset diabetes -- mistakenly attack these islet cells so they are no longer functional. Autoantibodies to the islet cells are often present for years before the islet cells themselves are destroyed. This is called islet autoimmunity (IA).

Specifically, those children who were fed cereals both with and without gluten before 4 months of age had a four times greater risk for IA, and those who were first fed cereal at 7 months or older had a five times increased risk, the study found. Both of these groups were compared to children in the 4- to 6-month age range, which is when U.S. pediatricians generally recommend introducing solid foods, especially cereals.

Babies who ate gluten before the age of 3 months have also been found to have a fivefold higher risk for developing the autoantibodies, compared with those who ate gluten after 3 months of age.

Now, preliminary mouse data in a new study published in the journal Diabetes, suggests that mouse mothers can protect their pups from developing type 1 diabetes by eating a gluten-free diet.

Led by Professor Camilla Hartmann Friis Hansen at the University of Copenhagen, the study showed that the gluten-free diet changed the intestinal bacteria in both the mother and the pups -- something that is known to play an important role for the development of the immune system as well as the development of type 1 diabetes.

The team suggested that that the protective effect of the diet could be attributed to certain intestinal bacteria, and that the findings in mice may also apply to humans.

"Preliminary tests show that a gluten-free diet in humans has a positive effect on children with newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes. We therefore hope that a gluten-free diet during pregnancy and lactation may be enough to protect high-risk children from developing diabetes later in life," said Hansen.

Professor Axel Kornerup -- a study co-author -- added that while many findings from experiments on mice are not necessarily applicable to humans, in this case the team has grounds for optimism.

"Early intervention makes a lot of sense because type 1 diabetes develops early in life. We also know from existing experiments that a gluten-free diet has a beneficial effect on type 1 diabetes," he explained.

Study details

In the study pregnant non-obese diabetic (NOD) mice were fed either a gluten-free (GF) or standard diet, until all pups were weaned to standard diet.

"The early life GF environment dramatically decreased diabetes incidence and insulitis," reported the team.

Gut microbiota analysis by gene sequencing revealed a pronounced difference between both mothers and their offspring, characterized by increased Akkermansia, Proteobacteria, and TM7 in the GF diet group, they wrote.

Levels of pancreatic FoxP3 regulatory T cells were also found to be increased in GF fed offspring, while intestinal gene expression of proinflammatory cytokines was reduced.

"GF diet during fetal and early postnatal life reduces development of diabetes," concluded Hansen and her colleagues.

"The mechanism may involve a changed gut microbiota and shifts to a less proinflammatory immunological milieu in the gut and pancreas."


Mae Chan holds degrees in both physiology and nutritional sciences. She is also blogger and and technology enthusiast with a passion for disseminating information about health.

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