Bread is a staple part of many diets, from North America to Europe to Asia.
A new observational study from Denmark, however, suggests that pregnant women who consume a diet high in gluten could increase their child’s risk of developing Type 1 diabetes.
The researchers point out the findings do not indicate that gluten directly causes diabetes and more research is needed before people start making dietary changes.
The study involved 63,000 pregnant women in Denmark who were part of the Danish National Birth Cohort between 1996 and 2002. The participants completed a questionnaire at 25 weeks of pregnancy which measured how much gluten they consumed.
Average gluten intake was 13 g/day, ranging from less than 7 g/day to more than 20 g/day.
The researchers identified 247 cases of Type 1 diabetes (a rate of 0.37%) among the participants’ children.
Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley and is suggested to affect the development of Type 1 diabetes.
In animal studies, a gluten-free diet during pregnancy almost completely prevented Type 1 diabetes in offspring, but no intervention study has been undertaken in pregnant women, according to a press release.
After taking account of potentially influential factors, such as mother’s age, weight (BMI), total energy intake, and smoking during pregnancy, researchers found that the child’s risk of Type 1 diabetes increased proportionally with the mother’s gluten intake during pregnancy (per 10 g/day increase).
The study’s authors concluded more evidence was needed before health officials made recommendations to change the diets of women who are pregnant.
It is important to note this is an observational study and the mechanisms that might explain this association is not known. One possible causative factor could include increased inflammation or increased gut permeability, but more research is needed.
“Given that a causal association between maternal gluten intake and Type 1 diabetes in children has not yet been established,” the authors write, “it is too early to change dietary recommendations on gluten intake in pregnancy.”
However, the researchers urge doctors, researchers and the public to be aware of the possibility that consuming large amounts of gluten might be harmful, and that further studies are needed to confirm or rule out these findings, and to explore possible underlying mechanisms.