Scientists say further research needed on gluten and type 1 diabetes link

Scientists say more research is required to determine if there is a link between gluten intake and type 1 diabetes.

Last week, a report published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) made headlines after suggesting gluten intake by a pregnant woman could be a risk factor for type 1 diabetes in their offspring.

The report covered the findings of a study of 67,565 pregnant women in Denmark, whose gluten intake ranged from less than 7g per day to more than 20g per day, and averaged 13g. Follow-ups were conducted six and 18 months after the birth of their child, when information on breastfeeding was collected. Additional follow-ups were conducted when the children were seven, 11, and 14 years old.

Researchers found there was twice the risk of type 1 diabetes developing in the offspring of the women with the highest gluten intake compared to those with the lowest gluten intake.

They also reported that previous studies in animals found that a gluten-free maternal diet during pregnancy almost completely prevented type 1 diabetes in offspring. However, human studies have not shown an association.

In response to the findings, Dr Matthew Simmonds, a member of the Society for Endocrinology and senior lecturer in biomedical science at the University of Lincoln, said: “Even if in the future this potential link between gluten intake and onset of type 1 diabetes is confirmed, this does not necessarily mean that gluten itself is causing type 1 diabetes.

“Further investigation [is needed] into both the mother and the child’s diet over a longer time period to determine whether it is truly gluten or something else related to diet that is causing this potential link, as explained in the accompanying BMJ editorial for this paper.”

 “Until such future studies, it is too early to advise pregnant mothers to change their diet, and particularly gluten intake, based purely on these initial interesting findings,” he added.

Dr Jenny Myers, senior lecturer in maternal and fetal health at the University of Manchester, echoed this.

She said: “It’s important during pregnancy that women eat a balanced diet and, as there is no evidence currently that gluten should be excluded, women should not make radical changes to their diet based on this study.”

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