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High gluten diet in pregnancy linked to higher child diabetes risk

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A high gluten intake by mothers during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of their child developing type 1 diabetes, suggests a study by Danish researchers.

However, they acknowledged that further studies were needed to confirm or rule out these findings before any changes to dietary recommendations could be justified.

”High gluten intake by mothers during pregnancy could increase the risk of their children developing type 1 diabetes”

Study authors

In earlier animal studies, a gluten free diet during pregnancy almost completely prevented type 1 diabetes in offspring, but no intervention study has previously been undertaken in pregnant women.

Researchers, led by Julie Antvorskov at the Bartholin Institute in Denmark, examined whether gluten intake during pregnancy was associated with subsequent risk of type 1 diabetes in children.

They analysed data for 63,529 pregnant women enrolled into the Danish National Birth Cohort between January 1996 and October 2002.

Women reported their diet using a questionnaire at week 25 of pregnancy and information on type 1 diabetes in their children was obtained through a national register on the condition.

Average gluten intake was 13g/day, ranging from less than 7g/day to more than 20g/day, and the researchers identified 247 cases of type 1 diabetes among the participants’ children.

After taking account of potentially influential factors, they found a child’s risk of type 1 diabetes increased proportionally with the mother’s gluten intake during pregnancy (per 10g/day increase).

For example, children of women with the highest gluten intake (20g/day or more) versus those with the lowest (less than 7g/day) had double the diabetes risk during a mean follow-up of 15.6 years.

Although an observational study, the researchers said it was a high quality study with a large sample size, and they were able to adjust for a number of factors that could have affected the results.

“Further studies are needed to confirm or rule out these findings, and to explore possible underlying mechanisms”

Editorial authors

The mechanisms that might explain this association could include increased inflammation or increased gut permeability, they said in the British Medical Journal. But they said more evidence was needed before changes to dietary recommendations could be justified.

”High gluten intake by mothers during pregnancy could increase the risk of their children developing type 1 diabetes. However, confirmation of these findings are warranted, preferably in an intervention setting,” they stated.

In a linked editorial in the BMJ, researchers from Finland said further studies were needed “to identify whether the proposed association really is driven by gluten, or by something else in the grains or the diet”.

Clinicians and the public “should be aware of the possibility that consuming large amounts of gluten might be associated with an increased risk for the child to develop type 1 diabetes,” they said.

They added: “Further studies are needed to confirm or rule out these findings, and to explore possible underlying mechanisms.”

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