A gluten-free diet in pregnant mice lowers diabetes rates in their offspring. Photo: CC--HarshLight

Celiac.com 07/13/2016 - A really interesting study about gluten-free diets in mice just popped up over at the medical journal Diabetes, that has implications for both diabetes and celiac disease.

The study found that a maternal gluten-free diet reduces inflammation and diabetes rates in the offspring of non-obese diabetic mice.

The study was conducted by a research team that included Camilla H.F. Hansen, Łukasz Krych, Karsten Buschard, Stine B. Metzdorff, Christine Nellemann, Lars H. Hansen, Dennis S. Nielsen, Hanne Frøkiær, Søren Skov, and Axel K. Hansen. They are variously affiliated with the Department of Veterinary Disease Biology, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Frederiksberg, Denmark, the Department of Food Science, Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen, Frederiksberg, the Bartholin Institute, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen, Denmark, the Division of Toxicology and Risk Assessment, National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, Søborg, Denmark, and the Department of Biology, Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Researchers have known for some time that early life interventions in the intestinal conditions have been shown to influence diabetes rates in mice. For example, a gluten-free diet in known to decrease type 1 diabetes incidence. Their team hypothesized that a gluten-free diet for pregnant mice only during pregnancy and lactation period would protect offspring mice against development of diabetes.

The team fed pregnant non-obese diabetic (NOD) mice either a gluten-free or a standard diet, until all mice pups were weaned to standard diet. The early gluten-free mice showed significantly lower rates of diabetes and insulitis. Gut microbiota analysis by 16S rRNA gene sequencing showed significantly increased Akkermansia, Proteobacteria, and TM7 between both mothers and their offspring in the GF diet group.

Moreover, the gluten-free offspring showed increased pancreatic FoxP3 regulatory T cells, along with an increase in M2 macrophage gene markers and tight junction-related genes in the gut, coupled with lower intestinal gene expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Higher numbers of T cells in the pancreas expressing the mucosal integrin α4β7 suggests that the mechanism involve increased trafficking of gut-primed immune cells to the pancreas.

This study supports the conclusion that a gluten-free diet during fetal and early postnatal life reduces development of diabetes. This may be due to changes in gut microbiota and better inflammatory and immunological conditions in the gut and pancreas.

So, could it be that human mothers who eat a gluten-free diet through weening can impart the same kind of protection against diabetes? Clearly more studies need to be done until we can know for sure, but following a gluten-free diet while pregnant probably wouldn’t cause any harm to the mother or the baby.

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