A possible link between consuming gluten in childhood and the risk of developing type 1 diabetes has been uncovered by researchers.

A Norwegian study, involving more than 86,000 children, has found that eating gluten as a toddler is associated with an increased risk of the child later being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Gluten is a protein commonly found in wheat, barley and rye products including bread, pasta and some breakfast cereals.

Dr Nicolai Lund-Blix, of Oslo University Hospital and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health in Oslo, said: “No studies have investigated the relation between the amount of gluten intake by both the mother during pregnancy and the child in early life and risk of developing type 1 diabetes in childhood.

“Our objective was to examine the association between the maternal gluten intake during pregnancy, child’s gluten intake at age 18 months, and the risk of type 1 diabetes in the child in a Norwegia, population-based, nationwide study.”

The children studied were born between 1999 and 2009, and followed up until 2018. Upon follow-up, researchers found that 346 children (0.4%) had developed type 1 diabetes. The average gluten intake had been 13.6g per day among the expectant mothers and 8.8g per day for the child at 18 months of age.

Analysis of the findings revealed that, at 18 months of age, eating an extra 10g of gluten per day raises the relative risk of the child developing type 1 diabetes by 46 per cent. However, contrary to some previous findings, consumption of gluten by the mother during pregnancy was not found to impact the risk in this study.

The research team think the association between type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune condition, and consuming gluten might be because gluten increases inflammation in the gut. It is also known that there are links between type 1 diabetes and celiac disease, another autoimmune condition.

Dr Lund-Blix added: “Our observations may motivate future interventional studies with reduced gluten intake to establish whether there is a true causal association between amount of gluten intake in the child’s early diet and type 1 diabetes in susceptible individuals.”

The study is among those presented at the 55th annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) being held this week in Barcelona.

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