Jefferson Adams is a freelance writer living in San Francisco. His poems, essays and photographs have appeared in Antioch Review, Blue Mesa Review, CALIBAN, Hayden's Ferry Review, Huffington Post, the Mississippi Review, and Slate among others.
He is a member of both the National Writers Union, the International Federation of Journalists, and covers San Francisco Health News for Examiner.com.
In a recent study of 42 Ottawa-area young adults with Type 1 diabetes researchers analyzed white blood cells, looking for a response to partially-digested wheat proteins. They found that people with certain genes are more likely to develop an over-reaction to wheat in the gut. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system attacks the pancreas, the organ that regulates blood sugar. No such response was seen in another 22 diabetics in the study, nor in a separate control group of non-diabetics.
The gastrointestinal tract is home to the largest variety of immune cells in the human body. In healthy people, the presence of food molecules in the gut does not spark an immune response against food molecules, Scott said. However, if the normal process breaks down, the gut can become inflamed or damaged. Celiac disease is one example of such a breakdown. Folks with Type 1 diabetes suffer higher rates of celiac disease than non-diabetics.
One hypothesis for this is that certain immune cells may be stimulated by food triggers and migrate to the pancreas, where they damage insulin-producing cells, Scott said. The human gut is one of the main places where the human body interacts with its environment, including food, chemicals, bacteria and toxins. “It important to understand the role the gastrointestinal tract plays in this disease and other autoimmune diseases,” says Scott. “There are probably a large number of people who have diabetes risk genes, but only a small proportion of them develop Type 1 diabetes. These people have difficulty handling what is present in the environment.”
Previous research has shown a gluten-free diet to reduce rates of diabetes in animal models. However, that does not mean that parents who want to keep their children from developing diabetes should adopt a gluten-free diet, says Scott. The genetic risk for diabetes is very complex, he adds.
First, it's not easy to know for certain who will contract diabetes; 9 out of 10 people who develop Type 1 diabetes don’t have a relative with Type 1, Scott said. In the mean time, the Ottawa study touches on a very important part of the diabetes mystery. A number of scientists have suspected a link between diet, the gut and Type 1 diabetes for about 20 years now, Scott said. This is one of the first studies to affirm this connection in human cells.
For Scott, the fact that 22 diabetics in the Ottawa study did not show a reaction to wheat protein means only that the condition is far more complicated than clinicians can conceive at present.
In theory, there are myriad ways in which people may come to develop diabetes, and, says Scott, each may have developed by a separate route.