Celiac.com 01/24/2017 - Diabetes is a condition in which blood glucose rises high enough to cause: damage to blood vessel walls, neurological injury, vision loss, and a host of other maladies. Most currently recognized cases of diabetes fall into one of two categories which are identified as type 1 and type 2 diabetes. While these two types of diabetes share many symptoms, the underlying causes are, in most cases, quite distinct, although there is also some overlap which will be explored shortly. There are also cases of gestational diabetes and some researchers are now suggesting that type 3 diabetes may be yet another entity that causes accelerating cell death in the brain, resulting dementia (1) but these latter two types of this condition are not included in the current discussion.
Researchers Amanda MacFarlane and Fraser Scott report that there are several environmental factors, including specific foods, as well as viral, bacterial, and chemical agents that have been hypothesized to incite an autoimmune attack on the islet cells (2). They also report that about half of the animals that develop type 1 diabetes are mounting an immune response to wheat, which may also be involved in the attack on the insulin producing cells of the pancreas by either or both of two pathways they outline (2, 3). These hypothesized biological processes are identified as molecular mimicry or bystander activation and cell death. While these authors favor bystander activation, either or both of these pathways may lead to an autoimmune attack on pancreatic islet cells. Regardless of the specific biological route, type 1 diabetes can be induced in a significant portion of genetically susceptible rats and mice, simply by feeding them a diet dominated by wheat gluten. Further, the severity of their disease varies directly with the proportion of wheat gluten in the diet (2). These investigators go on to say that "These similarities between coeliac disease in humans and diabetes in BB rats, NOD mice and type 1 diabetic patients are consistent with the idea that wheat is involved in diabetes pathogenesis, possibly by inducing a subclinical, gut inflammation in many individuals that develop this form of diabetes" (2).
They go on to report that: "Our data suggest that dietary modulation has effects at two (or more) levels:
At the target cells before classic insulitis, changing the growth pattern of insulin-producing cells, enhancing islet mass and changing metabolism and insulin reserves . Dampening an ongoing inflammatory condition in the gut." (2)
Scott's work (4, 5) along with investigations conducted by several groups of his colleagues (6-10) indicate that significant numbers of diabetes patients show immune reactions to the prolamins which are storage proteins in wheat, rye, and barley. Further, investigators have long understood that there is significant overlap between celiac disease and type 1 diabetes, with estimates ranging between 5% and 12% in each disease group (2, 11). MacFarlane and Scott point out that 33% to 40% of patients with type 1 diabetes show transglutaminase autoantibodies which are similar to those found in celiac patients but usually at lower levels (2).
Low concordance rates in monozygotic (identical) twins also suggest that environmental factors play a large role in causing type 1 diabetes (2). Again, the most compelling evidence indicates that dietary consumption of wheat gluten and similar prolamins is an important factor in the autoimmune attack that destroys the pancreatic capacity to produce insulin, in genetically susceptible individuals.
Indirect support for this perspective is offered by animal research published in July of 2011. It shows that gamma-Aminobutryic acid (GABA) supplements not only inhibit the autoimmune attack on islet cells, GABA also incites regeneration of insulin producing cells (12). GABA is a non-toxic substance that is produced by the beta cells of the pancreas (13). It plays an inhibitory role throughout the nervous system which may be significant when taken in conjunction with Rodney Ford's identification of gluten as the agent which, directly and indirectly, induces neurological damage in those with celiac disease and those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity. One pathway Ford identifies is gluten-induced neuronal excitation leading to cellular self-destruction. In light of Ford's hypothesis, the inhibitory role of GABA on neuronal tissues, both at and near synapses, offers an inviting new window for envisioning the process that incites, and therefore may reverse, type 1 diabetes.
Clearly there is considerable cause to suspect gluten grain consumption as an important factor in the onset and perpetuation of many cases of type 1 diabetes. While genetically coded HLA markers predispose to the disease, and a number of other environmental factors may play a role in its pathogenesis, prolamins from wheat and its close relatives are clearly a frequent and important contributor to this life-long condition in which exogenous insulin (injection with hypodermic needles) is necessary for maintaining optimal health (12) while living with this malady. However, given the insights offered by the above, the following case history may offer insights that might otherwise incite only scepticism. MacFarlane and Scott suggest the following: "One approach to achieving this [prevention] is to understand and modify the environmental factors that induce disease or equip those at risk with better means of avoiding or handling these agents"(2).
On January 18, 2008, three year old K and her anxious mother were taken to a hospital emergency department in Gilbert, AZ, where the attending physician concluded that the child had experienced a febrile seizure of about 5 minutes' duration. At examination, she had a 102.5 degree temperature. In addition to fevers, K complained of abdominal pain and showed abdominal bloating. During this examination of K, she vomited. Laboratory tests showed elevated glucose (133 mg/dl) and an elevated white blood cell count (19,000). Tylenol was used to bring K's temperature down and she was discharged with instructions for the parents to administer more Tylenol as needed, and to follow up with her regular health care provider within two days.
By February 29, K experienced more fevers, ranging between 101 and 104, intermittently over 24 hours. Every four hours, when the effects of the previous dose of Tylenol wore off, the fever would, again, spike to 103-104. K was taken to see her regular physician the following day and urinalysis revealed ketone bodies. K and her parents were then sent to the emergency department of Banner Children's Hospital.
At the hospital, testing showed elevated urinary ketone bodies in the Large category, and blood showed elevated glucose at 193 mg/dL. Type 1 diabetes was diagnosed and K was admitted to hospital where she stayed for four days. Her condition was stabilized with ½ unit of Novalog and 4 units of Lantus. Meanwhile parents were educated about type 1 diabetes, insulin measurement and injection. They were taught to inject 1 unit of insulin for every 20 grams of carbohydrates consumed (20:1 ratio). K's parents repeatedly wondered, in the presence of the diagnosing endocrinologist, just how much insulin K was producing and how many carbohydrates a thirty pound child needed to be healthy? *
K's father has a history of joint pain when consuming gluten grains. K was still experiencing abdominal bloating and because of the overlap between type 1 diabetes and celiac disease (2) serum IgA antibody tests were undertaken and both transglutaminase and gliadin antibody tests were negative. However, the parents observed that variations in the types of food K ate seemed to have a greater impact on blood glucose than a specific food's putative sugar content.
In keeping with their observations that different foods, despite their equal sugar content, produced different blood glucose results, the father's history of joint pain when eating gluten, K's abdominal bloating, and the widely documented connection between gluten grains and type 1 diabetes, these foods and several others were eliminated from her diet.
K's parents were quickly able to adjust the insulin therapy to a 40:1 ratio while K typically maintained a blood glucose range of between 80 and 95 mg/dl, which is well within the reference range for a healthy, non-diabetic person. In fact, this is a far narrower range than is prescribed by the American Diabetes Association which is 70-120 mg/dl for diabetic patients. K's family continued to target and achieve the 80-95 mg/dl range.
After a few months of lower than normal blood sugars, still on insulin therapy, with the carbohydrate ratio now 40/1, the parents sought permission from the endocrinologist to take K off insulin completely, on the condition that her blood sugar continued within the normal range of 85-95 mg/dl. This was monitored on a daily basis. The first 24 hours were a success and another day was granted.
After six months of following a strict and intense food therapy diet for K, the family started reintroducing foods. Some foods were reintroduced without a rise in blood sugar. She was also able to eat a larger amount of carbohydrate each meal with the same blood sugar control. Clearly, the pancreas was producing increasing quantities of insulin.
On August 21, 2008, six months into this intensive and individualized food therapy, the patient's blood test results indicated a regeneration of the pancreas and a complete reversal of her type 1 diabetes. Her A1C was 4.8, well within the normal range for a non-diabetic person.
Today, more than three years later, the patient is still insulin free and is using food therapy alone to maintain healthy and normal glucose control. Signs of pancreatic inflammation were also absent. Each of these findings echo MacFarlane and Scott on the issue of dietary intervention in animal studies.
The intensive food therapy has now been replaced with a maintenance program. The variety of foods the patient can eat is vast. However, grain and casein continue to be avoided. It appears that, in this case, these foods may have contributed to K's Type 1 diabetes. It may also be that the underlying cause of the fever K experienced early in this process was a factor in the onset of her type 1diabetes, and the transient nature of this fever, and its cause, may be at the root of her recovery from this ailment. Nonetheless, given the many converging research findings indicting grains and dairy proteins, along with K's suggestive signs and symptoms, and her father's reactions to gluten, continued avoidance of these foods seems a more likely explanation.
Thoughtful readers may also wonder just how much insulin K was producing, at the time of her diagnosis, and just how many carbohydrates a thirty pound child needs to be healthy? It may be that GABA supplements and other chemical miracles will be unnecessary for large numbers of children who suffer from type 1 diabetes. Perhaps early diagnosis and permanent dietary adjustments will be what is needed to facilitate complete recovery for many, perhaps most, children afflicted by this insidious condition. Perhaps this case history will provide the necessary impetus to encourage undertaking controlled studies of dietary factors early in the disease process of type 1 diabetes.
* While there are no carbohydrates that are essential to good health, there are essential amino acids and essential fats.
- de la Monte SM, Wands JR. Alzheimer's disease is type 3 diabetes-evidence reviewed. J Diabetes Sci Technol. 2008 Nov;2(6):1101-13.
- Scott FW, Sarwar G, Cloutier HE. Diabetogenicity of various protein sources in the diet of the diabetes-prone BB rat. Adv Exp Med Biol 1988; 246: 277–85.
- Scott F. Dietary initiators and modifiers of BB rat diabetes. In:Shafrir E, Renold AE, eds. Frontiers in Diabetes Research:Lessons from Animal Diabetes. London: Libbey, 1988: 34–9.
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