The preliminary mouse data, published in the journal Diabetes, suggests that mouse mothers can protect their pups from developing type 1 diabetes by eating a gluten-free diet.
Led by Professor Camilla Hartmann Friis Hansen at the University of Copenhagen, the study showed that the gluten-free diet changed the intestinal bacteria in both the mother and the pups – something that is known to play an important role for the development of the immune system as well as the development of type 1 diabetes.
The team suggested that that the protective effect of the diet could be attributed to certain intestinal bacteria, and that the findings in mice may also apply to humans.
"Preliminary tests show that a gluten-free diet in humans has a positive effect on children with newly diagnosed type 1 diabetes. We therefore hope that a gluten-free diet during pregnancy and lactation may be enough to protect high-risk children from developing diabetes later in life," said Hansen.
Professor Axel Kornerup – a study co-author – added that while many findings from experiments on mice are not necessarily applicable to humans, in this case the team has grounds for optimism.
"Early intervention makes a lot of sense because type 1 diabetes develops early in life. We also know from existing experiments that a gluten-free diet has a beneficial effect on type 1 diabetes," he explained.
In the study pregnant non-obese diabetic (NOD) mice were fed either a gluten-free (GF) or standard diet, until all pups were weaned to standard diet.
“The early life GF environment dramatically decreased diabetes incidence and insulitis,” reported the team.
Gut microbiota analysis by 16S rRNA gene sequencing revealed a pronounced difference between both mothers and their offspring, characterized by increased Akkermansia, Proteobacteria, and TM7 in the GF diet group, they wrote.
Levels of pancreatic FoxP3 regulatory T cells were also found to be increased in GF fed offspring, while intestinal gene expression of proinflammatory cytokines was reduced.
“GF diet during fetal and early postnatal life reduces development of diabetes,” concluded Hansen and her colleagues.
“The mechanism may involve a changed gut microbiota and shifts to a less proinflammatory immunological milieu in the gut and pancreas.”
Karsten Buschard, who also worked on the research, added: "We have not been able to start a large-scale clinical test to either prove or disprove our hypothesis about the gluten-free diets.”
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.2337/db13-1612
“A maternal gluten-free diet reduces inflammation and diabetes incidence in the offspring of NOD mice”
Authors: Camilla H.F. Hansen, Łukasz Krych, et al