Eating a high gluten diet during pregnancy has been linked with an increased risk of type 1 diabetes in the child after birth, new research suggests.
Whilst a link was observed, the evidence is not strong enough to say that gluten does or will influence a diagnosis of type 1 diabetes. The research does help however to explore how diet might influence type 1 risk.
Gluten is a protein present in foods made out of grains such as wheat, barley and rye. People with celiac disease, an autoimmune disease like type 1 diabetes, are generally unable to eat gluten without having an adverse reaction, and research has previously linked high gluten intake to diabetes risk.
Earlier this year, TEDDY scientists reported that the late introduction of gluten in infants’ diets could increase type 1 diabetes risk, but they could not provide any conclusive evidence that gluten is linked with type 1 development.
This new study recorded data from 63,000 expectant women from Denmark. Those who participated were asked to monitor what they ate during pregnancy, and a follow-up survey was carried out on average about 15 years later to see which children had gone onto develop type 1 diabetes.
The average intake of gluten was about 13g and 247 cases of the condition were recorded.
The findings suggested the children born to mothers who ate higher amounts of pasta, bread, pastries and cereal were at a greater risk of developing the condition.
Researchers at the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Finland said the risk of type 1 diabetes in children “increased proportionately” among women who ate more gluten during their pregnancy.
Speaking to the Independent newspaper, Jenny Myers, a senior lecturer in maternal and fetal health at the University of Manchester, who was not involved in the study, said: “What we lack are mechanistic studies which can explain the biology of these observations – only then can we begin to design dietary interventions and be able to advise pregnant women properly.
“Women should not make radical changes to their diet based on this evidence – it is important during pregnancy to eat a balanced diet and there is no evidence currently that gluten should be excluded from the diet during pregnancy.”
The study findings have been published in The BMJ.

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