Understanding the Double Diagnosis: Type 1 Diabetes and Celiac Disease

April 08,2022 |
Woman putting pasta on her plate.

Type 1 diabetes continues to affect individuals of all age groups across the world. It’s a life-altering disease that requires ongoing management, careful planning, and consistent care. One of the biggest components of this management is eating a healthy diet and meticulously tracking blood sugar levels. Gluten intolerance has also been increasing in prevalence. While there are millions of people that eat gluten-free food only because they believe it’s healthier, some people have a medical reason for these choices. Gluten can cause stomach problems and a range of sensitivity issues, but celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that can lead to serious complications from gluten intake. Recently, there has been a link between type 1 diabetes and celiac disorder. Many individuals who are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes are finding out that they also have celiac disease. Here, we’ll elaborate the reasoning behind this double diagnosis and how to live a healthy lifestyle that supports both. 


Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is a type of autoimmune disease where antibodies attack and destroy the beta cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. This creates a deficiency within the body and without externally administered insulin, glucose levels become dangerously high in the bloodstream. This is referred to as hyperglycemia. If not corrected, hyperglycemia begins to deteriorate the body. It can result in blood vessel and nerve damage, kidney disease, vision loss, nerve loss, ulcers, amputation, heart disease, stroke, and even death. Living with type 1 diabetes can seem scary, but when properly managed individuals are able to live a long, healthy life with minimal complications.

The cause of type 1 diabetes is currently unknown. Both genetic and environmental factors play a role in the onset and many researchers believe that certain drugs can further destroy insulin-producing beta cells. Diagnosis for type 1 diabetes can be done using a simple blood glucose test that’s performed following a fasting period. Early detection can help improve the prognosis for this disease, but those affected will need to change their diet and exercise regimen to improve longevity. Type 1 diabetes also requires ongoing monitoring of blood sugar and insulin injections to maintain a healthy balance. 


What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is also an autoimmune disorder, but in this instance the body’s immune system is triggered whenever gluten is consumed. While this is a protein that’s naturally found in many grains, the small intestine reacts strongly when it’s ingested. Overtime, the repeated ingestion of gluten by an individual with celiac disease can lead to the deterioration of the small intestine’s lining. This reduces your body’s ability to absorb key nutrients from food and can lead to several complications such as weight loss, bloating, anemia, diarrhea, fatigue, and vomiting. Reactions to gluten can also occur outside of the digestive system. Some of these symptoms include loss of bone density, skin rash, mouth ulcers, headaches, joint pain, or even cognitive impairment.

If you notice any signs of celiac disease or think that you have a gluten sensitivity, see your doctor. Managing the disease properly is the best way to avoid irreversible damage to the intestine or other serious complications.


How is Type 1 Diabetes Connected to Celiac Disease?

Since the 1960s, scientists have been studying the link between type 1 diabetes and celiac disease. While celiac affects about 1% of the general population, it affects 6% of the population of people living with type 1 diabetes. Studies have found that this may be due to the fact that both autoimmune disorders share common genetic origins. More research is needed to confirm. While gluten itself isn’t harmful for people that don’t have celiac disease, it’s often filled with excess sugars and simple carbohydrates. This can be troublesome for those trying to manage their diabetes and can lead to a negative feedback loop that eventually results in celiac. More information is needed to better understand exactly how the two autoimmune disorders feed off of each other. For now, if you have any type of disorder that triggers an immune response, talk to your doctor about getting screened for other autoimmune disorders. Catching them early is essential to your long-term health and management plan. 


Is Type 2 Diabetes Related to Celiac Disease?

Type 2 diabetes is not an autoimmune disease. It occurs due to a slow decline in insulin production or an increase in insulin resistance. Oftentimes, this is due to lifestyle habits such as inactivity, obesity, and a diet that lacks substantial nutrients. Type 2 diabetes can also be genetic and is more common in certain ethnicities and age groups. There is no direct link between type 2 diabetes and celiac disease.


Living a Healthy Lifestyle with a Double Diagnosis

Since the prevalence of celiac disease is higher in individuals with type 1 diabetes, undergoing the proper screening is recommended. Similarly, if you’ve recently been diagnosed with celiac disease, screening for type 1 diabetes can help you avoid unnecessary complications caused by improperly managing the condition. Without screening, the symptoms of each can be mistaken for the other, which is problematic for long-term health.

While adopting a gluten-free diet can help with glycemic control, some studies only suggest a gluten-free diet is beneficial in those with celiac. Talk to your doctor to better understand how to manage each disease, or both consecutively. When left untreated, celiac can further damage the small intestine, which in turn increases the risk of hypoglycemia as nutrient absorption suffers.

Find Gluten Free Options

If you’re living with a double diagnosis, make sure gluten-free carbs are easily accessible for instances where you need to manage your blood glucose levels. While gluten free options are becoming increasingly sold in restaurants and shops, it’s not worth taking the risk. Bring a sugary beverage, protein bars, or your other favorite gluten free snacks in case you need to manage your blood sugar levels while you’re out.

Eat a Balanced Diet

In addition to regulating gluten intake, individuals who have type 1 diabetes and celiac disease will benefit from eating a balanced diet that’s filled with plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and gluten free whole grains. These foods help fuel your body with essential nutrients that it needs to properly function. Avoid consuming too many processed foods, as these can be riddled with hidden carbohydrates or sugars. The additives in many processed foods also have a negative impact on intestinal health, which is directly related to several autoimmune diseases. If you’re not sure where to start, consider working with a nutritionist to get the most out of your diet.

Get Plenty of Exercise

Exercise can help your body naturally regulate blood glucose levels as the cells become more receptive during heightened activity. While individuals with type 1 diabetes still need insulin, exercise supports healthy organ functioning and can reduce the risk of associated complications. It can also improve digestion, thus strengthening your small intestines.

See Your Doctor Regularly

One of the most important parts of managing a double diagnosis is seeing your doctor regularly. Always track your health and monitor for any seen, or unseen, signs of complications. The earlier that these things are found, the better the prognosis. Discuss your needs with your doctor to set up appointments with your management team yearly.

Treat Both Disorders

Living with a double diagnosis is difficult because you need to treat both disorders independently and concurrently. While avoiding gluten is usually sufficient enough for celiac management, treating type 1 diabetes requires more effort. If you’re having trouble juggling these conditions or are experiencing any signs of diabetes distress, contact your doctor. There are great resources available to help you ease the weight of management and get the most out of your everyday life.

Receiving a type 1 diagnosis is emotional and can be difficult to process. Receiving an additional diagnosis of celiac disease can seem downright overwhelming. Make sure that you discuss these diagnoses with your doctor to better understand how to create a healthy, long-term treatment plan. You can still live a robust life that you love, you just need to properly manage these conditions to avoid serious complications. To help you track how your body responds to certain foods while you’re navigating dietary changes, Byram Healthcare offers a wide range of continuous glucose monitors and blood glucose meters. We offer the latest technology in diabetes management to help you get the most out of your time. For added support, consider joining our Caring Touch At Home™ Program or reach out to our Diabetes Center of Excellence today.