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Mayo Clinic researchers find possible link between gluten, type 1 diabetes

Researchers at Mayo Clinic have found that gluten may play a role in developing Type 1 diabetes.

With Type 1 diabetes (also known as juvenile onset diabetes) the immune system attacks the pancreatic cells that produce insulin. The pancreas then produces little to no insulin, affecting energy production in cells.

For a while, researchers have seen connections between Type 1 diabetes and celiac disease, an immune system reaction to gluten. The diseases often occur in the same families - so Mayo Clinic researchers decided to explore the connection deeper.

After a series of tests on mice, doctors found that gluten can affect the gut bacteria that increase the chances of getting Type 1 diabetes. After mice were put on a gluten-free diet, their chances of getting diabetes went down significantly.

Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist and study co-author Dr. Joseph Murray says the findings may not help people who have already been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. "What it may be very relevant to are the people who are thought to be at risk for Type 1 diabetes but haven't developed it."

"It's possible in future, if we have some way of restoring the cells that produce insulin, well then we want to make sure adapt or alter the immune system so it doesn't want to attack these very crucial cells for our survival," adds Murray.

Murray says eventually they'll study the effects in humans. They'll see how diets influence the gut bacteria and how those bugs interact with the immune system. At this point, Murray says he's not encouraging patients to change their diets.

The research was published in the Public Library of Science's open access, peer-reviewed journal, PLOS ONE.