Diabetes Type 1: The Link Between Food Additives and a Rise in Autoimmune Diseases

April 08,2022 |
Family eating at a dinner table.

Your body’s immune system is built to attack antigens, which can include foreign invaders like bacteria, pathogens, and viruses. When these antigens enter your body, the immune system recognizes them and triggers B lymphocytes to make proteins called antibodies. These target the antigens, lock into their cellular structure, and destroy them so you don’t get sick. Antibodies are also triggered in response to harmful environmental substances and disease-causing cellular changes, such as in the case with cancer mutations. In most individuals, this process is efficient and successful. In those living with an autoimmune disease, the body’s defense mechanisms are more complicated. It becomes unable to differentiate between foreign cells and your own. There are several different types of autoimmune diseases and each one is classified based on which part of the body the immune system mistakes as foreign. They can target anything from your skin and joints to the nerve cells, digestive system, adrenal glands, organs, and more. In an attempt to better understand why some people experience these reactions, we’ll explore the link between food additives and autoimmune disorders, especially in regard to type 1 diabetes.


What is Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks insulin-producing cells located within the pancreas. As a result, your pancreas becomes unable to make enough insulin to regulate your blood sugar properly. It’s what provides a passageway for blood sugar to enter your cells and be converted into life-sustaining energy. Since insulin is an essential hormone, those living with type 1 diabetes require continual care to ensure that their body can properly process the foods and beverages they consume. Without insulin, sugar accumulates in the bloodstream, which can have fatal short and long-term effects.

Unfortunately, as with many autoimmune disorders, the definitive cause of type 1 diabetes is still unknown. However, there are genetic markers and certain environmental factors that have been shown to increase your risk of developing type 1 diabetes. Due to the typical early onset of this autoimmune disease, many people thought that genetics played the biggest impact. While onset typically spikes between four and seven, then again between 10 and 14, type 1 diabetes can occur at any age. Therefore, if you notice any signs that may be indicative of diabetes, it’s important to seek medical care immediately to avoid long-term complications from high blood sugar levels. Some of the most common symptoms of type 1 diabetes include increased urination, dehydration, increased appetite, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, and diabetic ketoacidosis.


Other Common Autoimmune Diseases

While type 1 diabetes is a well-known autoimmune disease, there over 80 different types that can affect an individual throughout their life. Since the 1940s, these disorders have been increasing at an alarming rate worldwide—type 1 diabetes has been increasing at a rate of 3% per year, rheumatoid arthritis has increased about 2.5% each year in women, and celiac disease is now four times more common than 50 years ago. In the U.S. alone, there are up to 23.5 million Americans who suffer from some type of autoimmune disease and, while they can be managed, they can also be life-threatening. In addition to type 1 diabetes, some of the most common autoimmune diseases include the following:


Similar to type 1 diabetes, the underlying cause of most autoimmune diseases is unknown. As with all chronic conditions, there is a degree of genetic predisposition, but there are also millions of individuals who develop one or more autoimmune diseases each year with no familial history.


The Impact of Food Additives on Autoimmune Diseases

As the prevalence of autoimmune diseases continues to rise, scientists have begun to look more deeply at environmental risk factors. This is especially true in regard to diet. The rise in food additives like preservatives and dye has correlated with an increase in illnesses, especially autoimmune diseases and cancer rates. In an attempt to prove causation from this trend, countless studies have been performed.

Several studies found that there are certain food additives that seem to increase the risk of autoimmune disease by damaging a protective barrier found in the digestive system. Normally, this barrier helps keep toxic chemicals and bacteria out of the bloodstream. Certain additives break this barrier down, thus allowing toxins and bacteria access to the rest of the body. This permeability is commonly referred to as “leaky gut.” Once toxins and bacteria enter the bloodstream, they send the immune system into disarray and weaken resistance to certain elements. Over time, this weakened resistance leads to autoimmune attacks on various cells, organs, and tissues.


Common Food Additives That Increase Risk

Many additives are used in foods to keep them fresh for longer, change the color, alter texture, or unnaturally enhance flavor. This type of nanotechnology is chemical in nature and therefore, difficult to understand the complex, long-term interactions within the body. Unfortunately, what we’ve seen is that food additives have increased the prevalence of autoimmune disorders. Specifically, the additives found to be the highest risk include sugars, salt, emulsifiers, organic solvents, gluten, microbial transglutaminase, and nanometric particles that are used to improve overall taste, color, texture, and uniformity. These additives don’t tend to be controlled nor supervised and the amount that enters processed food is usually in extreme excess. These additives have been found to cause inflammation and damage the intestinal lining, or the protective barrier, within our bodies.

While sugar and salt can complement your diet, when added to processed food they can exacerbate intestinal permeability. This is because the amount of both sugar and salt in processed foods is often far higher than what you would use on your own. This increases the risk of autoimmune activation. When added in moderation to foods prepared at home, sugar and salt can help your body absorb food and extract nutrients. The best course of action to ensure that you remain healthy and consume a balanced diet is to avoid processed foods and instead, opt for whole fruits and vegetables prepared at home with whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Use sugar and salt in moderation and work with your doctor to track your health.


How to Reduce Your Risk of Autoimmune Diseases

While it can be close to impossible to completely eradicate your risk for autoimmune diseases, there are things you can do to stay healthy and protect your body’s natural defense system. For instance, try to address the underlying cause of inflammation in your body. Since inflammation sends distress signals to your immune system, reducing this can help keep your antibodies working effectively. All processed foods can cause inflammation, so it’s best to eliminate or drastically reduce consumption for a healthy life and longevity.

Some ways to do this include scheduling regular doctor’s visits to check for any hidden infections or chronic conditions, eating a balanced diet that’s low in processed foods, and taking steps to actively balance the microbiome in your intestines. While there’s a lot of speculation about the effectiveness of probiotics, eating fermented foods like kimchi, certain yogurts, sauerkraut, and kombucha can help. Undergo regular bloodwork to catch and treat any nutrient deficiencies and talk to your doctor about taking fish oil, vitamin C, and vitamin D to help support your immune system. Get plenty of exercise, try to alleviate stress, and prioritize your sleep schedule. While these are all things that you should be doing regardless, they can help reduce some environmental risk of developing autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes.

If you’re currently living with type 1 diabetes, your risk for developing subsequent autoimmune disorders increases. To stay healthy and avoid further complications, it’s important to properly manage your diabetes. When you combine diet, exercise, and insulin administration, you’ll greatly reduce your risk of complications and further development of coinciding autoimmune disorders. If you currently have type 1 diabetes and another autoimmune disease, talk to your doctor to determine the best management plan to address each condition. To help you live a healthy life, Byram Healthcare has a range of diabetes management products, including our Caring Touch at Home™ Program.