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Type-1 Diabetes

Part 1: What causes type-1 diabetes?

Type-1 diabetes, characterized by a sudden onset, is generally believed to be inherited as it is more likely to occur in people who have close relatives with diabetes. However, this seems unlikely as type-1 diabetes is not found in the animal kingdom either in meat or plant eating animals, where those animals live in their natural habitat. Neither does type-1 diabetes exist amongst human cultures whose diets are typically low in carbohydrates.[1] While not a single case of type-1 diabetes has been found among the meat- and fat-eating Inuit population of Alaska, there have been cases of the maturity onset type of diabetes.[2] These appear to be the result of increasing carbohydrates introduced into the modern Inuit diet by 'civilisation'.

As this disease is wholly restricted to peoples of Western industrialised civilisation, it cannot have a genetic origin, although family dietary traits and lifestyle can play a major part in its appearance within families.

Another explanation is that type-1 is an autoimmune disease, and this is more likely. The question then is: What causes that autoimmune reaction? The answer seems to be a cereal-based 'healthy' diet:

  • Maternal diet. If a pregnant woman eats too much carbohydrate, this will raise her insulin levels. It is not thought that insulin itself crosses the placenta from mother to unborn child. However, insulin antibodies do.[3] These increase glycogen and fat deposits resulting in an abnormally large baby. It may also predispose that baby to diabetes.

  • Infant diet. The development of autoimmune type-1 diabetes involves complex interactions among several genes and environmental agents. Human type-1�diabetics show an unusually high frequency of wheat gluten-sensitivity. Gluten is closely linked with the autoimmune attack in the pancreas and is strongly associated with pancreatic islet inflammation and damage.[4] Thus early weaning to a diet which contains a gluten-containing cereal such as wheat, barley, rye or oats is likely to increase the risk of type-1 diabetes.[5] To avoid that risk, such foods should not be used before at least 6 months of age. And, even then they should be introduced slowly, if at all.

And, as type-1 diabetes is caused by the pancreas producing little or no insulin, anything that damages the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas can cause type-1 diabetes.


1. Yudkin J. Evolutionary and historical changes in dietary carbohydrates. Am J Clin Nutr 1967; 20: 108-115.

2. Mouratoff GJ, et al. Diabetes mellitus in Eskimos. JAMA 1967; 199: 107-12.

3. Menon R K, et al. Transplacental passage of insulin in pregnant women with insulin dependent diabetes mellitus: its role in fetal macrosomia. N Eng J Med 1990; 323: 309-15

4. MacFarlane AJ, et al. A Type 1 Diabetes-related Protein from Wheat (Triticum aestivum): cDNA clone of a wheat storage globulin, Glb1, linked to islet damage. J Biol Chem 2003; 278: 54-63.

5. Ziegler A-G, et al. Early Infant Feeding and Risk of Developing Type 1 Diabetes -Associated Autoantibodies. JAMA 2003; 290: 1721-1728.

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Last updated 23 January 2009

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