There is a Connection between Celiac Disease and Type 1 Diabetes

There’s more shared between these two diseases…Consider the body as a complex machine with many interconnected parts. This is exactly how our bodies function, so it makes sense when researchers tell us the pancreas and the small intestines – two digestive structures – are closely related. In fact, the pancreas and small intestine share immune system connectionscalled lymph nodes.

{lymph nodes ~ part of the immune system found throughout the body, including in the gastrointestinal region, that act as filtering stations, removing toxins and excess fluids from the body.}

Because of this connection, when an environmental factor, like gluten entering the body, activates lymph nodes in the gut, the body’s immune system attacks cells in the small intestine. Research shows cells in the pancreas can come under attack, too.

Perhaps the strongest connection between CD and Type 1 diabetes is  the genetic link. Both diseases also associated with Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) class II genes. In the most basic terms, the HLA system helps our bodies’ cells recognize friend or foe. Nearly all our cells contain certain proteins called HLA “markers”. Our immune system uses these protein markers to determine which cells belong in our body and which ones do not. When a foreign substance is detected by the HLA system, the immune system goes to work to rid the body of the invader. Specific HLA II genes are shared by CD and Type 1 diabetes and can indicate a predisposition for having one or both of these disorders.

There is also a strong genetic tie between CD and Type 1 diabetes in non-HLA genes. A prominent study released in 2008 in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed an overwhelming number of genetic risk factors shared by CD and Type 1 diabetes.

While more and ongoing research is needed, science clearly demonstrates a strong connection between these two autoimmune diseases.

Let’s take a look at some misconceptions about diabetes and the facts to correct them…

Celiac Disease and Type 1 Diabetes

Not So Sweet Myths about Diabetes

Sugar causes diabetes.

Sugar is not related to the cause of Type 1 diabetes. Instead, scientists believe genetic and environmental factors are the cause of this disease.

The greatest risk factor for developing Type 2 diabetes is being overweight.

The myth that sugar causes diabetes comes from the idea that eating excess sugar increases levels of blood sugar.

Even though research shows different types of carbohydrates have different affects on glucose levels in the blood, it is the total carbohydrates eaten, not the type. This means sugar is not off limits, but can be incorporated into the diet in small amounts. Doctors specializing in diabetes suggest planning ahead for a sugary treat by making a trade-off and reducing the total carbohydrates consumed from other foods.

Only kids get Type 1 diabetes.

Individuals may develop Type 1 diabetes at any age. This form of diabetes is most often diagnosed in children or young adults, therefore is sometimes called “juvenile diabetes”.

People with diabetes should refrain from athletics.

Although physical activity is important for all of us, individuals with diabetes should be especially diligent about staying active and getting enough exercise. A regular fitness program is a key part of keeping blood sugar regulated.

Insulin injections or tablets will cure diabetes.

Individuals with Type 1 diabetes must take insulin to stay alive; however, there is no cure for diabetes. Just like those with CD must remain on a strictly gluten free diet, individuals with Type 1 diabetes must be diligent about monitoring what they eat and taking their insulin to maintain their health.

Type 1 Diabetes on a Gluten Free Diet

Having Type 1 diabetes and CD (or being on a gluten free diet for another reason) can pose unique challenges when managing both diseases through diet.

A good way to begin is by eating whole foods (lean proteins, fresh fruits and veggies, and gluten free grains) which are generally healthy food choices for both diseases.

For a Type 1 diabetic who is newly diagnosed with CD, dietary changes can be significant. Gluten free foods have a different carbohydrate, fat, and protein makeup than gluten-filled foods. This can cause some diabetics’ insulin needs to change. Until your new diet is under control, be extra-cautious about monitoring blood sugar levels.

The frequent use of rice flours and rice products in gluten free foods like crackers, cookies, and pastas can cause a spike in blood sugars. Be careful to monitor carbohydrate intake and read labels carefully!

In addition to the carbohydrate differences in gluten-free food, blood sugar is also affected as the intestine heals itself and more nutrients are absorbed into the body.


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