There is a Connection between Celiac Disease and Type 1 Diabetes

4 years ago

Celiac Disease and Type 1 Diabetes

There is a sure connection between Celiac Disease and Type 1 Diabetes.

Individuals with CD are more likely to have other autoimmune disorders than the general population. For example, 5-10% of those with CD also have Type 1 diabetes.

Even if you do not have diabetes, this is important information. Chances are you know a diabetic. If you do, be the BEST kind of friend and share this information with them, especially if they have symptoms of Celiac disease or unresolved health issues. You may help someone progress along the path to optimal health by doing so.

Before we dive in to look at the CD-Type 1 Diabetes connection, let’s first understand exactly what diabetes is. We’ll focus on Type 1 diabetes, the type associated with CD. Next, we’ll expose a few not-so-sweet myths about diabetes and check out the facts science has for us. Finally, we’ll talk about a few challenges faced by diabetics when they first go gluten free.

What is Diabetes?

Diabetes affects nearly 26 million individuals in the US. Formally known asDiabetes mellitus, diabetes refers to a group of diseases resulting in high blood sugar.

{blood sugar ~ glucose, the body’s primary source of energy, in the blood}

Even though we like to keep it simple, we need a little more information than just “high blood sugar” to have a solid understanding of diabetes. Let’s look at how the body’s systems work together to regulate our blood sugar. Then, we’ll see what happens when things don’t work exactly as they should.

When we eat, food is broken down into glucose, the main source of energy for our cells. Some glucose travels from the intestines directly into the blood.

This causes the pancreas to produce insulin. Insulin signals cells in the body to allow glucose in for immediate use as energy, or to be stored for later.

{pancreas ~ a digestive organ that is part of the endocrine system.}

{insulin ~ a hormone produced by beta cells in the pancreas; it is responsible for regulating the breakdown of carbohydrates and fats in the body and converting them into energy.}

Glucose not immediately needed for energy is stored as glycogen. This is important because excess glucose in the blood stream is toxic to our system. It can cause damage to many body systems and organs like our cardiovascular system and kidneys, and can even lead to blindness.

{glycogen ~ the main way our bodies store excess glucose; glycogen is stored in liver, muscle, and fat cells in the body to be used later as energy.}

Too little glucose in the blood for our cells to use as energy is not good, either. There must be balance.

To achieve this balance, when the amount of glucose in the blood (blood sugar) drops below a certain level, our bodies convert stored glycogen back to glucose and send it into the blood stream to be used as energy.

Insulin is necessary for this to occur. Without it, glucose cannot enter the cells in our body or be converted to, and stored as, glycogen for later use.

It is when insulin levels in the body are out of control that diabetes results.

There are three types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2, and Gestational diabetes.

In Type 1 diabetes, the form associated with CD, the cells in the pancreas responsible for producing insulin are destroyed by the body and do not produce insulin. Individuals with this form of diabetes must take insulin injections to keep their blood glucose levels regulated. This type of diabetes is sometimes called “Juvenile diabetes” because it is diagnosed most often in children and younger individuals.

The type of diabetes associated with adults (“Adult Onset diabetes”) is Type 2 diabetes. Individuals with Type 2 produce insulin, but it is either not enough to carry out the necessary functions detailed above, or the body does not respond properly to insulin.

The third type of diabetes is Gestational diabetes. This condition occurs in a small percentage of pregnant women and typically goes away after pregnancy. There is an increased risk for Type 2 diabetes later in life for a woman who has gestational diabetes.

Now that we have a general understanding of what diabetes is, let’s look at the connection between Type 1 Diabetes and CD.

The Connection between Celiac Disease and Type 1 Diabetes

Like CD, Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder. This means the body attacks its own tissues. In the case of CD, the body attacks the small intestine when gluten is consumed. In Type 1 diabetes, the beta cells of the pancreas are attacked, leading to an inability to produce the insulin necessary to regulate blood sugar levels. (Why this occurs in Type 1 diabetes is not fully understood.)

There’s more shared between these two diseases…Consider the body as a complex machine with many interconnected parts. This is exactly how our bodies function, so it makes sense when researchers tell us the pancreas and the small intestines – two digestive structures – are closely related. In fact, the pancreas and small intestine share immune system connectionscalled lymph nodes.

{lymph nodes ~ part of the immune system found throughout the body, including in the gastrointestinal region, that act as filtering stations, removing toxins and excess fluids from the body.}

Because of this connection, when an environmental factor, like gluten entering the body, activates lymph nodes in the gut, the body’s immune system attacks cells in the small intestine. Research shows cells in the pancreas can come under attack, too.

Perhaps the strongest connection between CD and Type 1 diabetes is  the genetic link. Both diseases also associated with Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) class II genes. In the most basic terms, the HLA system helps our bodies’ cells recognize friend or foe. Nearly all our cells contain certain proteins called HLA “markers”. Our immune system uses these protein markers to determine which cells belong in our body and which ones do not. When a foreign substance is detected by the HLA system, the immune system goes to work to rid the body of the invader. Specific HLA II genes are shared by CD and Type 1 diabetes and can indicate a predisposition for having one or both of these disorders.

There is also a strong genetic tie between CD and Type 1 diabetes in non-HLA genes. A prominent study released in 2008 in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed an overwhelming number of genetic risk factors shared by CD and Type 1 diabetes.

While more and ongoing research is needed, science clearly demonstrates a strong connection between these two autoimmune diseases.

Let’s take a look at some misconceptions about diabetes and the facts to correct them…

Celiac Disease and Type 1 Diabetes

Not So Sweet Myths about Diabetes

Sugar causes diabetes.

Sugar is not related to the cause of Type 1 diabetes. Instead, scientists believe genetic and environmental factors are the cause of this disease.

The greatest risk factor for developing Type 2 diabetes is being overweight.

The myth that sugar causes diabetes comes from the idea that eating excess sugar increases levels of blood sugar.

Even though research shows different types of carbohydrates have different affects on glucose levels in the blood, it is the total carbohydrates eaten, not the type. This means sugar is not off limits, but can be incorporated into the diet in small amounts. Doctors specializing in diabetes suggest planning ahead for a sugary treat by making a trade-off and reducing the total carbohydrates consumed from other foods.

Only kids get Type 1 diabetes.

Individuals may develop Type 1 diabetes at any age. This form of diabetes is most often diagnosed in children or young adults, therefore is sometimes called “juvenile diabetes”.

People with diabetes should refrain from athletics.

Although physical activity is important for all of us, individuals with diabetes should be especially diligent about staying active and getting enough exercise. A regular fitness program is a key part of keeping blood sugar regulated.

Insulin injections or tablets will cure diabetes.

Individuals with Type 1 diabetes must take insulin to stay alive; however, there is no cure for diabetes. Just like those with CD must remain on a strictly gluten free diet, individuals with Type 1 diabetes must be diligent about monitoring what they eat and taking their insulin to maintain their health.

Type 1 Diabetes on a Gluten Free Diet

Having Type 1 diabetes and CD (or being on a gluten free diet for another reason) can pose unique challenges when managing both diseases through diet.

A good way to begin is by eating whole foods (lean proteins, fresh fruits and veggies, and gluten free grains) which are generally healthy food choices for both diseases.

For a Type 1 diabetic who is newly diagnosed with CD, dietary changes can be significant. Gluten free foods have a different carbohydrate, fat, and protein makeup than gluten-filled foods. This can cause some diabetics’ insulin needs to change. Until your new diet is under control, be extra-cautious about monitoring blood sugar levels.

The frequent use of rice flours and rice products in gluten free foods like crackers, cookies, and pastas can cause a spike in blood sugars. Be careful to monitor carbohydrate intake and read labels carefully!

In addition to the carbohydrate differences in gluten-free food, blood sugar is also affected as the intestine heals itself and more nutrients are absorbed into the body.

If you have Type 1 diabetes and are just embarking on a gluten free diet, be sure to make good use of all the resources in the Knowledge Section at

You’ll love the gluten-free allergen-free recipes I have for you, too, in the Recipe Index!

And for a more in-depth look at Celiac disease and other gluten-related health issues, subscribe to my digital ad-free gluten-free living magazine, Food Solutions!

Gigi ~

All content copyright Gluten Free Gigi, LLC. Please share courteously, providing link back and full credit for my work. Thank you.

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