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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Is Gluten Consumption a Possible Cause of Skyrocketing Diabetes Rates?

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

      Researchers stress urgent need to understand causes behind rising diabetes rates, look to diet, including gluten.


    Caption: Douglas D-558-2 Skyrocket tailpipe. Image: CC--Tim Evanson

    Celiac.com 04/18/2019 - Cases of type 1 diabetes have been on the rise in western countries, which suggests an environmental role in the development of the disease. Still, after decades of study, researchers have yet to nail down the factors driving the increase, and so they have no clear way to prevent new cases.

    A potential association that deserves closer scrutiny is one of environmental causes as a driver of diabetes, including dietary factors, such as gluten. At the moment, there is a great deal of focus on maternal and childhood dietary factors. 

    To remedy the current impasse, researchers Maija E Miettinen and Suvi M Virtanen of the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki, Finland, cite the need for comprehensive prospective studies with carefully collected data to define and confirm associations. Only with such data can effective solutions be devised and tested.

    In a linked article, also in the BMJ, Antvorskov and colleagues investigated the association between maternal gluten intake during pregnancy and risk of type 1 diabetes in offspring. 

    The authors analyzed data from the large Danish National Birth Cohort, covering about a third of all pregnancies in Denmark during the recruitment period of 1996-2002, in which more than 70,000 pregnant women reported their diet with a food frequency questionnaire.

    That analysis revealed that risk of type 1 diabetes in offspring increased proportionally with maternal gluten intake during pregnancy per 10 grams per day increase of gluten. 

    Compared to women with the lowest gluten intake of under 7 grams per day, those with the highest gluten intake, who consumed 20 or more grams a day, had double the risk for type 1 diabetes development in their children.  Basically, higher gluten intake during pregnancy meant higher diabetes risk for the children.

    However, that’s one study with good data. The authors stress the urgency to understand what is driving alarmingly fast-rising diabetes rates. People’s health, well-being, and lives are at stake. For that, further study is needed, and soon.

    Read more at BMJ 2018; 362 


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    There are so many variables in this type of study that it's a thin line to draw such a conclusion.  I'd like to see this approach expanded to include countries with a diet heavier on pastas and the like.  Bread has been a staple in diets in many countries throughout history, so it would seem unusual to see a rise in diabetes due to gluten ingestion. 

    My understanding is that a slice of bread has approximately 5 grams of gluten.  Depending on where/how you were raised and at what time period you might have had toast with breakfast, a sandwich at lunch, and rolls with dinner.  That's a lot of gluten. 

    A historical look would be very helpful in seeing a correlation, perhaps, of our adult/elderly population and diets on which they were reared.  It certainly makes me curious.

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    Guest sdvikingmac

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    1 hour ago, Ging said:

    There are so many variables in this type of study that it's a thin line to draw such a conclusion.  I'd like to see this approach expanded to include countries with a diet heavier on pastas and the like.  Bread has been a staple in diets in many countries throughout history, so it would seem unusual to see a rise in diabetes due to gluten ingestion. 

    My understanding is that a slice of bread has approximately 5 grams of gluten.  Depending on where/how you were raised and at what time period you might have had toast with breakfast, a sandwich at lunch, and rolls with dinner.  That's a lot of gluten. 

    A historical look would be very helpful in seeing a correlation, perhaps, of our adult/elderly population and diets on which they were reared.  It certainly makes me curious.

    Hi Ging. Although I agree it's too little to draw such a conclusion that gluten is the cause, to be fair, the article/study doesn't draw that conclusion. For example, if you click on the BMJ link, the title of the article is "A potential association that deserves closer scrutiny". Given the correlation found, I certainly agree with that and it raises my curiosity too!  Also, bread has not been a staple in diets throughout history.  In general, grains like wheat have only been part of human diets for about 10,000 years. 

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in biology, anatomy, medicine, science, and advanced research, and scientific methods. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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