An abnormal immune response to wheat proteins may be the cause of type 1 diabetes in about 50 per cent of its cases, according to a study.
Dr. Fraser Scott and his collaborators from the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and the University of Ottawa tested 42 people with type 1 diabetes, and found that nearly half had an abnormal immune response to wheat proteins.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the pancreas, the organ that regulates blood sugar.
Dr. Scott claims that his study is the first to show that immune cells called T cells from people with type 1 diabetes are also more likely to over-react to wheat.
His research has also shown that the over-reaction is linked to genes associated with type 1 diabetes.
"The immune system has to find the perfect balance to defend the body against foreign invaders without hurting itself or over-reacting to the environment and this can be particularly challenging in the gut, where there is an abundance of food and bacteria," said Dr. Scott, a Senior Scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and Professor of Medicine at the University of Ottawa.
"Our research suggests that people with certain genes may be more likely to develop an over-reaction to wheat and possibly other foods in the gut and this may tip the balance with the immune system and make the body more likely to develop other immune problems, such as type 1 diabetes," he added.
In a commentary accompanying the study paper, diabetes expert Dr. Mikael Knip of Finland said: "These observations add to the accumulating concept that the gut is an active player in the diabetes disease process."
In previous studies on animal models, Dr. Scott has already shown that a wheat-free diet can reduce the risk of developing diabetes.
He, however, stresses the need for more research to confirm the link, and determine possible effects of diet changes in humans.
His most recent findings have been published in the journal Diabetes.