Is a Gluten-Free Diet Necessary for Type I Diabetics and Those Without Celiac Disease?

A study published this past month from Denmark stated that a gluten-free diet may successfully treat type I diabetes. (1)

It is common to see both celiac disease and type I diabetes in the same person.

The study, led by Dr. Sildorf at Copenhagen University Hospital, followed a five-year-old boy who was diagnosed with type I diabetes.

While type I diabetes and celiac disease often occur together, the boy’s blood work showed that he did not have celiac disease. When looking for celiac disease, physicians will screen for certain antibodies or immune system signals in the blood.

These antibodies can tell the immune system to attack the body’s own cells. Unfortunately, we can develop antibodies to just about anything, including hormones and enzymes that are essential to our wellbeing.

After his diagnosis, the boy began a gluten-free and low-sugar diet. It turns out that after five weeks of insulin treatment, the boy’s physicians determined that he no longer needed the insulin treatments.

Nearly two years after his diagnosis of type I diabetes, the young boy still requires no insulin therapy.

What Does Gluten Have to Do with Insulin-Dependent Diabetes?

Type I diabetes mellitus is also known as juvenile onset or insulin-dependent diabetes.

A serious health condition like type I diabetes, also known as juvenile onset diabetes, could be successfully treated with a gluten-free diet, according to new research. Avoiding gluten can prevent autoimmune flare-ups that will make a chronic illness even worse.

  • It typically develops during childhood.
  • Little or no insulin is produced in the body.

Insulin is a hormone that is made by specific cells in the pancreas. Insulin regulates blood sugar. If we do not have enough insulin, sugar (glucose) builds up in the blood.

When it comes to our health, this can be disastrous. If blood sugar is chronically elevated, risk for conditions like heart attack, nerve damage, and kidney damage rises significantly.

Type I diabetes is an autoimmune condition. We know that if you have type I diabetes, your immune system attacks the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin.

Celiac disease is also an autoimmune condition. Evidence seems to suggest that once you have one autoimmune reaction, your chances of having another are greater. It is common to see both celiac disease and type I diabetes in the same person. (2)

In the study above, the boy did not have celiac disease. However, he still made a dramatic shift in his health by:

  • Removing gluten
  • Removing sugary, high-glycemic foods

Gluten Doesn’t Only Affect Those with Celiac Disease

There are many components to wheat that can activate an immune response. Gluten itself has more than one protein that is capable of irritating the gut lining.

A gluten-free diet often reduces minor systemic inflammation. This is the kind of inflammation the flies under the radar, producing annoying and seemingly unrelated symptoms of poor health.

Once set into motion, the inflammatory process, which is guided by the immune system, will make any autoimmune condition worse.

The study with the young boy suggests that inflammation in the gut is caused by gluten and that it can contribute to an autoimmune flare-up anywhere in the body.

Everything that we eat shapes the bacteria in our gut. When it comes to our inner ecosystem, studies also show that wheat gluten:

  • Reduces the variety of bacteria present in the gastrointestinal tract, which has been found to contribute to inflammation in the gut.
  • Promotes the growth of pro-inflammatory bacteria that can make autoimmunity worse over time. (3)

In other words, you do not need to have celiac disease to benefit from a gluten-free diet.

What Gluten-Free Really Means

If you decide that removing gluten from your diet will benefit your health – or if you would like to experiment and see if a gluten-free diet is for you:

1. Avoid gluten-free versions of bread and flours. While these foods are a comforting replacement for old favorites, they are full of sugars that can aggravate an infection and weaken immune system function. Also, consider that many of these foods are made with ingredients that, while free of gluten, can ignite an inflammatory response as much as gluten.

2. Take steps to heal intestinal permeability. One reason why gluten is such a problem is that it facilitates intestinal permeability, or “leaky gut”. Even if you do not have signs of gastrointestinal issues, the gut can be inflamed and even harbor an overgrowth of bacteria or yeast.

3. Your skin may clear up, your focus may sharpen, and your depression may disappear. Besides the obvious benefits of a gluten-free diet, like steady blood sugar and stronger digestion, you may notice improvements in other areas of your life. Seeing improvements in skin disorders and brain function is common. Take note and keep these changes in mind: they are clues to areas where you are most vulnerable and where you want to place special attention.

4. Watch out for other trigger foods or trigger situations. If you decide to remove gluten from your diet, you may think that you are more sensitive than ever to food and stress. Chances are, if you react to gluten, you may also react to other foods or even environmental toxins. Because we are all unique, each of us must figure out what works and what doesn’t. Going through the Body Ecology Diet step by step can help with this process.

5. Heal Your Gut. It is critical to rebuild the inner ecosystem and stop the cycle of inflammation and autoimmune response. Make sure to incorporate fermented foods and probiotic beverages into your daily routine.

What To Remember Most About This Article:

A new study has confirmed that a gluten-free diet could be used to successfully treat type I diabetes. Although type I diabetes and celiac disease can occur together, the study was conducted on a five-year-old boy with type I diabetes who did not have celiac disease. After just five weeks of undergoing a gluten-free and low-sugar diet, the young boy no longer needed insulin treatments.

Gluten is a protein that can activate an autoimmune response, making it detrimental to those with autoimmune conditions like celiac disease and type I diabetes. A gluten-free diet can be used to relieve minor systemic inflammation and prevent flare-ups that could cause health conditions to become worse.

What this study confirms is that even those without celiac disease can benefit from a gluten-free diet by using the following tips:

  1. Avoid gluten-free breads and flours that can aggravate a weakened immune system.
  2. Proactively work to heal intestinal permeability to calm gut inflammation.
  3. Stick with a gluten-free diet to improve your focus, clear your skin, and even ease depression.
  4. Watch out for trigger foods that could make it easy to slip up on your diet by eating gluten. Use Body Ecology Diet guidelines to make this transition easier.
  5. Work to heal your gut by enjoying fermented foods and probiotic beverages each day!
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  1. Sildorf, et al. Remission without insulin therapy on a gluten-free diet in a 6-year-old by with type 1 diabetes mellitus. BMJ Case Reports. 2012. DOI: 10.1136/bcr.02.2012.5878
  2. SJ Schwarzenberg, et al. Type 1 Diabetes and Celiac Disease: Overview and Medical Nutrition Therapy. Diabetes Spectrum. 2002 Jul; 15 (3): 197 – 201. 
doi: 10.2337/diaspect.15.3.197
  3. DL Mackenzie. Variation in populations of enteral microflora in people with coeliac disease following the implementation of a gluten free diet : a thesis in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Human Nutrition through the Institute of Food, Nutrition and Human Health at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand. 2008. URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10179/1703
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