Gluten Causes Type 1 Diabetes
Research Has Known About the Link for a Long Time
A fabulous study was just released this month in the journal Diabetes. When I ponder the gap between the knowledge facilitated by researchers and the length of time it takes for that knowledge to trickle down to mainstream doctors, I am reminded of the ‘epiphany’ I experienced when writing our book The Gluten Effect.
While writing the book I initially felt that I was far out on the limb of credibility. Here I was, founder of Root Cause Medical Clinic, a clinician and clinical nutritionist, claiming there was a condition called ‘gluten sensitivity’ when there was little to no agreement from the medical or nutritional community. I remember distinctly my happy surprise when I began looking for research that would in any way validate what seemed so obvious in our patients. And lo and behold there was a vast amount of research supporting exactly that.
Even though it was more than 5 years ago now, there was research from the late 1990s and early 2000s that indeed validated the existence and negative effects of what we now call gluten sensitivity. If it was clearly “known” among the scientific community, why the lag among mainstream doctors? I’ve found that research is a good 5 to 10 years in advance. For whatever reason, the trickle-down effect seems to take that long.
The doctors here at Root Cause Medical Clinic feel we are in much the same place with not only type 1 diabetes but autoimmune disease as a whole. There is much research now to support the theory that we introduced in The Gluten Effect which pointed out that the health of the gut and the presence of gluten in the diet could have a large impact on the initiation and perpetuation of autoimmune disease.
Yet whenever I bring forward such research there are many that outright accuse me of being irresponsible or that I’m somehow fabricating the data. It’s a silly accusation because obviously, a research study that’s published in a respected medical journal is available for all to see.
My point is that emotions run high when you try to fly in the face of tradition. I think that’s my role while on this journey towards creating a radical change in health care. It’s something I’m very committed to and certainly, on this topic, autoimmune disease and type 1 diabetes, in particular, it’s a role I’m more than happy to play. So let’s shake up tradition a bit and see if we can’t make the world a healthier place!
Let’s look at the research: The authors stated that early-life interventions, meaning in utero and during breastfeeding, have shown an ability to influence type 1 diabetes incidence.
In other words, changes made in the mother’s diet during pregnancy and lactation had a positive impact on diabetes initiation, regardless of genetic predisposition. And that last part is very key. These researchers and others before them used mice that were not only diabetic themselves but had a strong genetic predisposition towards the disease.
Can a Gluten-Free Diet in a Pregnant Mother Decrease Diabetes in Her Offspring? YES!
They next stated that a gluten-free diet is “known to decrease type 1 diabetes incidence”. Note this was not a hypothesis but a statement made based on a vast amount of evidence that has emerged from earlier research. The hypothesis they did put forth was based on that prior knowledge of early life intervention and the association between gluten and diabetes, that utilizing a gluten-free diet during the period of pregnancy and breastfeeding would protect the offspring of type 1 diabetic mice from developing the disease themselves, even once a normal, gluten-containing diet was introduced.
We Have Been Utilizing this Protocol with Our Patients for Years
It’s a brilliant idea, right? How did they come up with this concept? Let me explain: We know that having the genes for an autoimmune disease is insufficient to cause that disease to manifest, fortunately. We further know that to develop an autoimmune disease requires 3 factors:
- The genes. Ones that code for that disease
- A trigger. Gluten and certain infections are known triggers for some autoimmune diseases.
- An unhealthy gut. Why is the gut important? For two reasons actually. First is because the immune system is housed in the gut (70-80% of it) and an unhealthy or overtaxed immune system makes the kind of mistakes that we see in autoimmune disease – namely attacking the body itself rather than a truly bad guy, which is the immune system’s job. Secondly, a healthy gut prevents bad guys and toxins from leaving the gut and gaining access to the body. So even if the trigger is present and the genes are present, a healthy gut would prevent the trigger from gaining access to the bloodstream, thereby preventing autoimmune disease.
Make sense? This has been well documented in research. One of the key points to note in this research was that the authors used non-obese diabetic mice for the study. Why non-obese? Because we know that obesity means inflammation and inflammation not only stresses the immune system but it is a major constituent in the development of many degenerative and autoimmune diseases. So they removed inflammation as a possible trigger by ensuring the mice were not overweight.
The findings? Performing this early life intervention of a gluten-free diet through the period of weaning “dramatically decreased diabetes incidence and insulitis” (inflammation occurring in the part of the pancreas associated with type 1 diabetes. This is very commonly found in young patients [human and mouse] with recent-onset type 1 diabetes (<1 year). “
Dramatic” is not a word that researchers throw around readily; they are typically quite circumspect in their language. So you know this was an extremely successful intervention.
Further, to support their theory that gluten-removed improved gut health, they evaluated the microbiota (healthy gut bacteria often referred to as probiotics) between the group that was gluten-free and the control group that was fed gluten. Those on the gluten-free diet had much healthier bacteria in their gut. Additionally, they had a nice presence of anti-inflammatory factors present that were protective of the pancreas along with markers that prevented a leaky gut from occurring. Bottom Line? The gluten-free diet not only created a healthy gut, immune system-wise, but it also prevented a leaky gut and stimulated the production of anti-inflammatory factors that protected the gut and the pancreas. Pretty impressive.
Their conclusion was that a gluten-free diet during pregnancy and early life reduces the incidence of type 1 diabetes through the change of gut bacteria and a shift of the immune system to an anti-inflammatory state that was present in the gut and the pancreas. Wow! This is profound. And while it’s not a brand new concept, its execution and findings are rather brilliant and truly does pave the way for a much greater appreciation of how to limit the initiation of type 1 diabetes along with other autoimmune diseases.
What About the Future?
As I’m sure you can appreciate, finding human women who have type 1 diabetes and who are planning to, but not yet pregnant, who are not overweight (sadly not an easy thing to find in our culture of almost 70% overweight), and can be monitored throughout a full 9 months of pregnancy and a year of nursing with no gluten slip-ups is so tall an order as to perhaps be impossible. Therefore we can appreciate the value of this study on mice as the correlation between the two species has found to be close as regards certain disease states. What does this mean for the future of type 1 diabetes? When you consider it’s the alarming rise – 23% over an eight-year period ending in 2009, it’s clear that something needs to change, but no one is stating what. Well, perhaps we do know what should change. Perhaps the way out is clear – and it’s found in what we do, Root Cause Medicine.
- Get our guts healthier so that we can stop the initiation of type 1, despite having the genes for it.
- Consider having mothers who have a strong incidence of type 1, either themselves or in their family, eliminate gluten while pregnant and nursing. And perhaps before introducing that first teething biscuit made of wheat, get the child tested to see if he or she carries any genes for celiac or gluten sensitivity.
- Realize that we cannot continue eating over-processed, chemical-laden, GMO, hormone-filled “food” and have a healthy gut and body. We need to understand that lifestyle and good health are mutually incompatible.
The Future Looks Bright Indeed… If We Make the Needed Changes
Is it realistic to think we could reverse the dramatic increase in type 1 diabetes and all autoimmune diseases? I think so. And it’s not particularly difficult. But you know what it doesn’t involve – popping a pill. And for that reason, this intelligent, research-driven approach won’t gain traction from the traditional medical profession. And goodness knows it won’t gain any traction with the pharmaceutical industry! Nope. It’s going to have to be a grassroots movement. Understand the truth about what is creating autoimmune disease and make diet and lifestyle changes. Do you need help? I’m here for you.
Do you need help with your health?
We have the tools to discover why you may be having trouble with a weakened immune system. It’s not difficult as long as you’re ready to make some dietary and lifestyle changes. If that sounds daunting, don’t worry. We will hold your hand through the changes and make each step of change an easy one.
Dr. Vikki Petersen DC. CCN
Founder of Root Cause Medical Clinic
Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner
Dr Vikki Petersen is a public speaker, author of two books, several eBooks and creates cutting edge content for her YouTube community. Dr Vikki is committed to bringing Root Cause Medicine and its unique approach to restoring health naturally to the world.