Diabetes and Gluten: The Link is Strong
Several studies have shown a strong connection between diabetes and gluten. What is this link? What type of diabetes? Who does this affect? And what can you do about it? I cover the research and these issues in this clinical nutrition article.
There are two forms of diabetes: type 1, an autoimmune disease affecting 8.2 percent of Americans, and a much larger threat, type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes, sometimes referred to as Diabesity is a developed condition that is primarily considered to be self-induced from an unhealthy lifestyle and diet.
The truly frightening statistic is that an estimated 50 percent of our population suffers from it while up to 90 percent of that number remain undiagnosed. Interestingly, that is about the same percentage of those with celiac disease who remain undiagnosed.
There are two major types of gluten conditions: celiac disease and gluten sensitivity (also known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity, NCGS). It turns out both autoimmune diseases, celiac and type 1 diabetes, have a causal relationship, as do the two non-autoimmune conditions, type 2 diabetes and gluten sensitivity.
Let’s explore each.
Type 1 Diabetes & Celiac
A September 2019 study revealed a 46 percent increased risk of developing type 1 diabetes in children up to the age of 18 months who consumed a diet heavy in gluten. They defined “heavy gluten” as follows: each 10 grams of gluten consumed per day increased the risk of developing type 1 diabetes by 46 percent. Ten grams is equivalent to 2 slices of bread. Therefore, one sandwich per day would cause that degree of increase.
Acknowledging the link between type 1 diabetes and celiac disease is not new, having first been established in the 1960s. We just reviewed how eating a typical amount of gluten can increase a child’s risk of developing type 1 diabetes significantly. On the other side of the coin, when a child is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, the associated presence of celiac disease is 6 percent. This is an outstanding six times the normal prevalence of celiac disease in the general population, which is 1 percent.
As you can see, there is a causal relationship in both directions, with each one condition worsening the effects of the other.
Once either disease is diagnosed, the other autoimmune disease should be screened for, considering the strong interrelationship.
Is there a genetic link? Yes, the link between the two autoimmune diseases is genetic but that doesn’t mean you have no control. We have just reviewed that there are lifestyle steps that can be taken to reduce the incidence of both diseases.
Type 2 Diabetes & Gluten Sensitivity
The basics of type 2 diabetes are as follows: the cells of those suffering with type 2 diabetes are not able to process blood sugar correctly because they do not respond properly to the hormone insulin. Insulin unlocks or opens our cells, allowing them to process blood sugar and thus providing your cells with energy.
When the cells don’t respond to insulin, the individual is deemed to be insulin resistant. As a result, their blood sugar, unable to enter their cells, continues to rise, creating damage to a variety of organs including your eyes, kidneys, brain, circulation to your extremities, and more.
In a study published in 2020, in Endocrine Connections, it was established that patients with type 2 diabetes possessed imbalanced intestinal flora (dysbiosis) and intestinal permeability (leaky gut). An imbalanced gut microbiome, in the case of type 2 diabetes, was characterized by mucus-degrading bacteria plus a decrease in fiber-degrading bacteria.
Why is this significant? A healthy mucus layer is needed for maintaining the integrity of the gut lining and preventing inhospitable bacteria from crossing the intestinal lining. Similarly, the ability to break down fiber is absolutely critical to maintain an anti-inflammatory profile in the gut.
The combination of lower mucus levels plus the lessened ability to break down fiber results in a pro-inflammatory profile that not only results in a leaky gut but also greatly reduces the amount of healthy short-chain fatty acids (SCFA).
SCFAs are highly protective against leaky gut, are anti-inflammatory, and functionally increase the pancreatic beta cells that are needed to prevent type 2 diabetes.
A healthy mucus layer is needed for maintaining the integrity of the gut lining and preventing inhospitable bacteria from crossing the intestinal lining. Similarly, the ability to break down fiber is absolutely critical to maintain an anti-inflammatory profile in the gut.
How does gluten fit into this? Gluten has been documented for many. years to weaken the gut lining, increasing leaky gut and diminishing protective SCFAs.
A 2020 study in Nature Metabolism confirmed the association between type 2 diabetes, obesity, and health of the microbiome.
The study’s authors cite data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that reveals an association between type 2 diabetes, obesity, and the profile of bacteria present in their microbiome.
They state that gut permeability (leaky gut) allows certain bacteria or bacterial fragments to cross the gut barrier and set off an inflammatory process that prevents insulin from doing its job. This data was originally found in a study presented in Nutrition Research where the association was revealed.
This is so significant that it bears repeating: A leaky gut, a known result of gluten ingestion, is linked to the malfunctioning of insulin, and thereby the development of type 2 diabetes. There are other causes of leaky gut, but our focus here is gluten.
Obesity, so often associated with type 2 diabetes, has also been linked to leaky gut.
There is much more research that substantiates what we have reviewed, but space doesn’t allow for more.
As we conclude, it’s important to look at action steps.
What can you do?
If either type 1 diabetes or celiac disease are present in your family, strongly consider not introducing any gluten into the diets of your children or grandchildren. There is every reason to take this step to reduce the likelihood of these autoimmune diseases developing.
While there is a genetic link to type 2 diabetes, the stronger impact comes from diet and lifestyle. If you are overweight, have been diagnosed with pre-diabetes or borderline diabetes, or officially diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, please know that all of these conditions can be reversed or put into remission.
The first step is to remove gluten from your diet because it is a known cause of leaky gut.
Next, you want to take the dietary steps necessary to increase your levels of SCFAs that are known to heal a leaky gut, protect your immune system, and restore function to your insulin hormone.
Those are significant steps that do not require drugs, expensive tests, or doctor visits. You have the power of the fork – meaning you control what you put into your mouth and the result is either more SCFAs with all the associated benefits, or a worsening of your diabetes due to creating more pro-inflammatory microbes and a leaky gut.
How do you do it? You need to dramatically increase your fiber intake.
Most Americans, a shocking 19 out of 20, don’t achieve even the
minimal grams of fiber per day. Fiber factually lowers blood sugar.
Good bacteria can transform the healthy fiber you eat into the wonderful SCFAs we have been discussing. For women, the recommended amount per day is about 25 grams, and for men it is 38 grams.
Where is healthy fiber found? Plants. And diversity is key because each plant, think vegetables, fruits, legumes, etc. all provide a unique profile of healthy fiber. You want to aim for 30 different plants per week in your diet.
You need to dramatically increase your fiber intake. Most Americans, a shocking 19 out of 20, don’t achieve even the minimal grams of fiber per day. Fiber factually lowers blood sugar. Good bacteria can transform the healthy fiber you eat into the wonderful SCFAs we have been discussing.
• T1D & Celiac Disease, “New insights into the links between anti-diabetes drugs and gut microbiota” Endocrine Connections, December 17, 2020. Hu, R., Yuan, Y., et al.
• “Type 2 diabetes influences bacterial tissue compartmentalisation in human obesity” Nature Metabolism, March 9, 2020. Anhê, F., Jensen, B.A.H., et al.
• “Potential mechanisms for the emerging link between obesity and increased intestinal permeability” Nutrition Research, September 7, 2012. Teixeira, T., Collado, M.C., et al. GFM
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.