Link between Type 1 Diabetes and allergic response to wheat

Scientists at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and the University of Ottawa have discovered what may be an important clue to the cause of type 1 diabetes. Dr Fraser Scott and his team tested 42 people with type 1 diabetes and found that nearly half had an abnormal immune response to wheat proteins.

The infant and young immune system is meant to learn to differentiate between foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria (to be attacked) and the body’s own tissues and harmless molecules such as food. But when this process goes awry, autoimmune diseases and allergies can develop. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the pancreas, the organ that regulates blood sugar.

Now Dr Fraser Scott and his research team have, for the first time, clearly shown that immune cells, called T cells, from people with type 1 diabetes are also more likely to over-react to wheat and that the over-reaction is linked to genes associated with type 1 diabetes.

The research suggests that people with certain genes may be more likely to develop an over-reaction to wheat and possibly other foods in the gut and this may tip the balance with the immune system and make the body more likely to develop other immune problems, such as type 1 diabetes.

Dr Scott’s previous research had shown that a wheat-free diet can reduce the risk of developing diabetes in animal models, but he notes that more research will be required to confirm the link and determine possible effects of diet changes in humans.

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First published in November 2009


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