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Gluten-free diet reduces risk of type 1 diabetes in mice

Sunday, May 11, 2014    

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NEW experiments by the University of Copenhagen showed that feeding a gluten-free diet to mouse mothers during pregnancy and lactation was enough to protect their pups from developing type 1 diabetes later in life.

Researchers at the institution believe the findings may also apply to humans.

In type 1 diabetes, previously referred to as insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, the body does not produce enough insulin. Insulin is a necessary hormone that converts starches, sugar and other foods into energy.

With more than one per cent of the Danish population having type 1 diabetes, reportedly one of the highest incidence rates in the world, the researchers hope that the disease may be prevented through simple dietary changes.

"Preliminary tests show that a gluten-free diet in humans has a positive effect on children with newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes," says assistant professor Camilla Hartmann Friis Hansen from the Department of Veterinary Disease Biology, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences. "We therefore hope that a gluten-free diet during pregnancy and lactation may be enough to protect high-risk children from developing diabetes later in life."

Admitting that the findings, which were recently published in the journal Diabetes, are not necessarily applicable to humans, co-writer Professor Axel Kornerup said in this case there is room for optimism.

"Early intervention makes a lot of sense because type 1 diabetes develops early in life. We also know from existing experiments that a gluten-free diet has a beneficial effect on type 1 diabetes," he said.

The experiment showed that the diet changed the intestinal bacteria in both the mother and the pups, a release from the institution said recently. The intestinal flora plays an important role for the development of the immune system as well as the development of type 1 diabetes, and the study suggests that the protective effect of a gluten-free diet can be ascribed to certain intestinal bacteria.

The advantage of the gluten-free diet is that the only side-effect seems to be the inconvenience of having to avoid gluten, but there is no certain evidence of the effect or side-effects, the release continued.

"We have not been able to start a large-scale clinical test to either prove or disprove our hypothesis about the gluten-free diet," Professor Karsten Buschard from the Bartholin Institute at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, another co-writer on the study, said.

But the professors hope to continue the work, noting that if knowledge is gleaned on how gluten or certain intestinal bacteria modify the immune system and the beta-cell physiology, that knowledge could be used to develop new treatments.

The study was conducted on 30 mouse pups from gluten-fed mothers and 30 mice from mothers fed a gluten-free diet.

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