What is the link between gluten and diabetes?
Gluten is not necessarily harmful to people with diabetes and most diabetics will not need to follow a gluten free diet. However, up to ten per cent of people with coeliac disease, a condition where your immune system attacks your own tissues when you eat gluten, also have Type 1 diabetes (1.)
Why is coeliac disease more common in people with type 1 diabetes?
Type 1 diabetes develops when the body is unable to produce insulin, the hormone which regulates glucose in the blood. It usually appears in people under the age of 40 and is treated with insulin. According to Coeliac UK, for most people, type 1 diabetes is diagnosed before coeliac disease. Both are autoimmune conditions. If you already have one autoimmune condition, your genetic makeup means that you’re more susceptible to developing other, similar conditions (2.) However, there is no increased risk of coeliac disease in people with Type 2 diabetes, a type of diabetes where the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, and is linked to lifestyle or family history.
How does coeliac disease affect diabetes?
If you have coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity, your blood glucose control may change when you remove gluten from your diet. Taking gluten out of your diet may improve the absorption of nutrients, including carbohydrates (1). Professional advice should always be sought before making any changes to diet associated with either of these conditions.
Tips for managing diabetes and coeliac disease, or gluten sensitivity
According to Coeliac UK, there are some simple lifestyle changes that can be made, to improve the symptoms of both conditions:
- Eating three regular meals a day should help with appetite control and glucose levels
- Include a gluten free, starchy carbohydrate with every meal, such as gluten free bread, quinoa or sweet potato. Carbohydrate is a key ingredient to controlling glucose levels and advice should be sought on how much to consume depending on age, weight and other factors
- Cut down on saturated fats to maintain a healthy diet
Where can I find out more?
There are a number of charities and organisations who can help if you think you might be living with coeliac disease, gluten sensitivity, and/or diabetes. These are: Coeliac UK, Diabetes UK, Independent Diabetes Trust and Diabetes Research and Wellness Foundation.
Cojocaru M, Cojocaru IM, Silosi I. Multiple autoimmune syndrome. Maedica (Bucur). 2010 Apr;5(2):132-4. PMID: 21977137; PMCID: PMC3150011.