High gluten diet in pregnancy ups child's diabetes risk

The study found a link between maternal gluten diet and type 1 diabetes risk in offspring for the first time

The study found a link between maternal gluten diet and type 1 diabetes risk in offspring for the first time

Eating lots of gluten in pregnancy doubles the risk of having a child with Type 1 diabetes, research suggests.

To better understand the nature of this association, researchers led by Julie Antvorskov at the Bartholin Institute in Denmark in collaboration with researchers at Denmark's Statens Serum Institut, set out to examine whether gluten intake during pregnancy is associated with subsequent risk of type 1 diabetes in children.

The risk increased proportionally with the mother's gluten intake of 10g per day during pregnancy.

Previous research in this area had only studied animals, finding that animals with a gluten-free diet while pregnant "completely prevented" type 1 diabetes in their offspring - leading a team of worldwide researchers to examine if this could also be true for humans.

They identified 247 cases of type 1 diabetes among children after an average follow-up period of 15.6 years.

To be clear though the researchers said pregnant women should not be given dietary recommendations just yet, claiming more evidence is needed for that to happen.

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"Finding a link between eating more gluten during pregnancy and a higher risk of type 1 diabetes in babies is interesting, but importantly, this research does not show that gluten causes type 1 diabetes", Lucy Trelfa, research communications officer at Diabetes UK, said.

Until now scientists have thought of Type 1 diabetes as an unavoidable condition that has more to do with genetics than any environmental factor.

Gluten proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley are believed to be important in diabetes development. They are rich in proline and glutamine, which makes them highly hydrophobic and partly resistant to intestinal degradation. "Given that a causal association between maternal gluten intake and type 1 diabetes in children has not yet been established, it is too early to change dietary recommendations on gluten intake in pregnancy".

In addition, the study did not determine whether mothers who ate high amounts of gluten also fed their children high-gluten diets, or whether children were exposed to gluten through breast milk, Miettinen and Virtanen said.

Dr Jenny Myers, of the University of Manchester, added: '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'. "In addition, the role of unmeasured or unidentified confounders can never be fully excluded in observational studies".

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