How Gluten Intake is Linked to Type 1 Diabetes

January 15,2020 |

Gluten Intake and its Link to Type 1 Diabetes

In recent years, the awareness of gluten sensitivities has risen substantially. More and more people are talking about gluten intolerance, celiac disease, and in turn, many restaurants now offer a plethora of gluten-free items. If you don’t have celiac disease, eating gluten doesn’t cause much of a problem. However, gluten intake has recently been linked to type 1 diabetes so if you have type 1 diabetes, going gluten-free may be beneficial.

Since many foods that contain gluten tend to raise blood sugar levels, reducing your overall gluten intake will help you manage your type 1 diabetes better.  In this article, we’ll go into more detail on how gluten intake is linked to type 1 diabetes and what you can do to better manage diabetes with your diet.

What is Type 1 Diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.2 Insulin works to help transform sugar into energy, so when insulin levels are low, blood sugar levels rise. People with type 1 diabetes have little to no insulin of their own so they need to take insulin injections to survive.

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is also an autoimmune disease. If you have celiac disease and you eat gluten, your immune system responds and it starts to attack your small intenstine.5 When your small intestine is targeted, you’re more susceptible to damage on the villi, which help aid in overall nutrient absorption.5 Celiac disease can develop at any age and has a number of long-term health impacts.

The Link Between Type 1 Diabetes and Celiac Disease

Gluten itself isn’t harmful for people with diabetes that don’t have celiac disease, but gluten is often in foods that are also filled with excess sugar and carbohydrates.4 This can be bad news for people trying to manage their diabetes. Since sugar and carbohydrates affect blood sugar levels so drastically, limiting gluten will have a beneficial effect. 

Another interesting connection is the fact that if you have one type of autoimmune disease, you’re more susceptible to develop another one. In this case, we’re talking about type 1 diabetes and celiac disease. Celiac disease occurs in up to 19.7% of people with type 1 diabetes4 and in about 1% of the general population.1 There is a direct link between type 1 diabetes and celiac disease, which was first discovered in the 1960s, but no link between type 2 diabetes and celiac disease.1 Since they’re both autoimmune diseases, they need to be managed both individually and concurrently to avoid long-term side effects. 

Due to the increased risk in diabetic patients, it’s important to get screened for celiac disease. Talk to your doctor to find out how you can get tested for celiac disease today. Oftentimes, symptoms of celiac disease go undiagnosed as many people assume they’re just symptoms of diabetes. To better manage your diabetes and care for yourself, finding out the underlying cause of any symptom is important. Differentiating between symptoms of diabetes and symptoms of celiac is no different.

If you have celiac disease and type 1 diabetes, managing your diabetes is more difficult. The gluten from foods causes inflammation in your gut, which changes how food is absorbed.4 This causes blood sugar fluctuations to occur more frequently with higher intensity. If you have both autoimmune diseases, it’s important to follow a strict diet to reduce the risk of both diabetes and untreated celiac disease.

Gluten During Pregnancy

According to a recent study, when a pregnant woman eats a diet that’s high in gluten foods, the chances of having a child with type 1 diabetes rises significantly.2 In fact, in one study, women who consumed excess gluten were twice as likely to have a child with type 1 diabetes compared to those who ate the least amount of gluten during pregnancy.2 It should be noted that this study was done on an observational case and provides no direct cause and effect relationship—further research is required.

While these figures are intimidating, they’re not conclusive and, as we said, more research is needed to definitively link gluten intake in pregnancy to type 1 diabetes.

Gluten During Childhood

A more recent study from September 2019 indicated that there is more of a risk when children up to age 18 months eat a diet heavy in gluten.3 The results determined that for each 10 grams of gluten consumed per day, the risk of developing type 1 diabetes increased by 46%.3 To learn more about this study, click here.

While there have been a few studies on the link between gluten intake and type 1 diabetes, more research is needed to determine the exact nature of the relationship. Hopefully the recent studies done will encourage scientists to further study the gluten and its affect on diabetes.

If you have type 1 diabetes and celiac disease, it’s important to regularly see your doctor to best monitor your bloody glucose and antibody levels. Consider working with a dietician who has experience in both diabetic meal planning and celiac meal planning. Always have a few gluten-free carbohydrates ready to help you manage your blood glucose levels in emergencies.  

Type 2 Diabetes and Gluten 

Since type 2 diabetes is not an autoimmune disease, it has absolutely no links with celiac disease. There have been no studies that show that gluten free diets help prevent the development of type 2 diabetes or manage it.4 Because of this, there are no recommendations to avoid gluten if you have type 2 diabetes.

Reducing Gluten in Your Diet

If you already have type 1 diabetes, the best thing to do is to get tested for celiac disease and reduce your overall gluten intake. Doing so will help you better manage your blood glucose levels and lifestyle. If you are expecting, keep your gluten intake to a minimum. While more studies need to be done for a conclusive connection, it never hurts to stray on the safe side. When you give birth, keep your child’s gluten intake to a minimum. Try using oat or almond flour instead of wheat flour and always choose whole grains as an alternative when cooking. When you go out to eat, keep an eye out for gluten-free menu items or the option to make a specific dish gluten-free. Taking a few small steps in prevention can help reduce your child’s chances of developing type 1 diabetes.

If you’re struggling to reduce gluten in your diet, consider doing some meal planning and prepping. Creating a meal plan ahead of time helps you make healthy choices when it comes time to eat. When you plan it ahead of time, you can strategically create a menu that will help you manage your diabetes. Then, when you’re in a rush, you’ll be more likely to grab the healthy food that you’ve planned rather than something quick and unhealthy.


If you think you might have type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, or symptoms of both, talk to your doctor immediately. You need to manage these autoimmune diseases properly to ensure that you don’t encounter any dangerous long-term complications. Even if you need to adjust your diet and become gluten-free, your food doesn’t have to be boring or bland. There are plenty of ways for you to enjoy your meals and stay healthy. To help you best understand how your body responds to certain foods, make sure you’re using a good blood glucose meter or continuous glucose monitoring device. If you need a new one, or need any other supplies to help you manage your diabetes, Byram Healthcare has you covered. We’re proud to provide you with the latest technology in diabetes management, including continuous glucose monitoring. We’ll work with your insurance provider and doctor to ensure you’re supported from start to finish, maximizing your coverage while minimizing out-of-pocket expenses. For more information and added support on diabetes management, sign up for Byram Healthcare’s Caring Touch At Home Program. We focus on providing exceptional customer service and top-of-the-line brand name products while lowering your overhead costs. The Caring Touch At Home Program combines convenience, affordability, and choice to deliver extensive service and support to everyone living with diabetes. 

For added support, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Byram’s Diabetes Center of Excellence—a one source, total solution for diabetes care. Our Center of Excellence combines high quality products with clinical and educational research to help you better manage your condition, support all of your needs, and live a long, healthy life. Browse our products, find resources, and learn more about our Caring Touch At Home Program today.