There is growing evidence associating wheat and related grains and the changes that lead to type 1 diabetes in genetically-susceptible people, both children and adults. Having type 1 diabetes means that something has triggered destruction of the beta cells of the pancreas that produce insulin, an irreversible process (with present-day knowledge) with resultant lifelong insulin-dependent diabetes.
The observations that link consumption of wheat and related grains with type 1 diabetes include:
- Children with celiac disease are 10-fold more likely to develop type 1 diabetes than children without celiac disease (Hansen 2001).
- Children with type 1 diabetes are 10- to 20-fold more likely to develop celiac disease and/or antibodies to wheat components (Barera 2002).
- The experimental mouse and rat models for type 1 diabetes demonstrate a robust connection to wheat. One study with type 1 diabetes-prone mice, for instance, showed that 15% of mice fed non-wheat-containing chow developed type 1 diabetes, while 64% of mice fed wheat-containing chow developed type 1 diabetes—a four-fold increase (Funda 1999).
- Wheat gliadin causes increased intestinal permeability that leads to increased autoantibody (antibodies directed against normal human tissue) expression against pancreatic beta cells (Visser 2009).
Children with type 1 diabetes also have 24-29% likelihood of autoantibodies, i.e., antibodies against “self” proteins, compared to 6% in children without type 1 diabetes, a four- to five-fold increase (Barker 2006 and others). This explains why people with type 1 diabetes have increased risk for other autoimmune health conditions such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, and autoimmune gastritis.
Concerningly, the NIH/CDC-sponsored SEARCH for Diabetes in Youth Study has documented that, since 1978, the incidence of type 1 diabetes has been increasing 2.7% per year (Vehik 2007). This phenomenon is not confined to the U.S., but has been demonstrated via registries in other countries, as well.
Note that, since 1978, humans have not really changed . . . but the wheat has. Specifically, wheat gliadin, glutens, and lectins have changed, the three most important and potentially immunogenic (immune-stimulating) components of modern wheat. Concurrently, we have also experienced an explosion in small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, SIBO, that likewise increases intestinal permeability, facilitating autoimmune processes like type 1 diabetes.
The study that would finally clinch the connection between wheat and type 1 diabetes is impractical, as it would involve having children genetically susceptible to type 1 diabetes (i.e., kids with siblings with the disease and/or have the genetic markers that confer risk) either lead a wheat/grain-free diet vs. wheat/grain-containing diet starting at birth and then observing if there is more type 1 diabetes in the wheat/grain-consuming group. Don’t hold your breath waiting for these data.
How incriminating does something have to be before we take action? Note that type 1 diabetes is a lifelong diagnosis, incredibly difficult and hazardous to navigate in young children, that can only be managed with present technology, not cured. In my book, we have such overwhelmingly damning evidence against wheat in so many spheres of health that this simply provides one more reason, in this case an argument to avoid in newborns, infants, and children.
This is yet another potential “nail in the coffin” for wheat, i.e., an association so bad that, if substantiated, adds further to wheat’s downward spiral.