Bread, pasta and cereal are staples of people’s everyday diets, but a new study suggests that women who have a high gluten diet during pregnancy could increase the risk of their children suffering from type 1 diabetes later down the line.
Previous research in this area had only studied animals, finding that animals with a gluten-free diet while pregnant “completely prevented” type 1 diabetes in their offspring - leading a team of international researchers to examine if this could also be true for humans.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), looked at the diets of 63,000 pregnant women in Denmark who were enrolled in the Danish National Birth Cohort between January 1996 and October 2002, and asked them to complete a food frequency questionnaire when they were at 25 weeks.
The amount of gluten the women ate ranged from 7g to 20g a day, averaging at 13g.
The researchers tracked the mothers and their children for a number of years after their children were born to see how many children developed type 1 diabetes. By 2016, 247 cases of type 1 diabetes had been recorded.
The risk of children developing the condition “increased proportionately” with the amount of gluten their mother ate while pregnant. The children whose mothers ate the most amount of gluten during pregnancy had the highest risk of developing diabetes - twice as much as the children of women who ate the lowest amount of gluten.
To be clear though the researchers said pregnant women should not be given dietary recommendations just yet, claiming more evidence is needed for that to happen.
“Given that the causal association between between maternal gluten intake and type 1 diabetes has not yet been established, it is too early to change dietary recommendations on gluten intake in pregnancy,” researchers from the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Finland said in a linked editorial.
They added that doctors, researchers and the public should be aware of the possibility that consuming large amounts of gluten might be harmful, but that further studies are needed to confirm or rule out these findings.
Lucy Trelfa, research communications officer at Diabetes UK, said the research is interesting, but that “this research does not show that gluten causes type 1 diabetes”, adding that it’s “far too early to say just how big a player gluten is”.
“Scientists are looking at a range of factors in our genes and our environment, like gluten, that might increase the risk of developing type 1 diabetes.
“But how those factors work together, and their individual importance, is still unclear. We need to understand what causes type 1 diabetes if we’re to prevent it, and research like this takes us longer.”
Trelfa added that pregnant women do not need to make any lifestyle changes based on the research, and anyone concerned about their pregnancy should speak to a healthcare professional.
Additional reporting by PA.