Can You Get Diabetes from Eating Gluten?

Diabetes Supplies
Is there a real connection between
type 2 diabetes and gluten?
Researchers at Harvard believe there is.

Yesterday, (March 9, 2017), Geng Zong, a research fellow at Harvard University in Boston, presented data to the American Heart Association that supposedly shows a connection between type 2 diabetes and gluten consumption.

The conclusions he and his colleagues arrived at were taken from an observational study they did on 200,000 health professionals over the past 30 years.

This observational study apparently began in the 1980s, back before Dr. Fasano came to the States and assisted in putting celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity on the map here. Even so, the media has been quite persistent in the idea that no one should go gluten free without a celiac diagnosis.

The Harvard researchers wanted to find out for themselves how gluten consumption affects those with no medical reason to go gluten free.

In a statement given to a reporter from the U.K newspaper, The Telegraph, about the study's objective, the team leader said:

“We wanted to determine if gluten consumption will affect health in people with no apparent medical reasons to avoid gluten.”

The findings were presented at a meeting in Portland, Oregon, so there's no reason to suspect that those 200,000 study participants were confined to the U.K. It's more likely they were U.S. citizens, where type 2 diabetes makes up 9.3% of the population.

Like most media articles designed to scare the public into eating gluten foods, the study sparked new allegations against those of us who have personally chosen to stop eating gluten without an official diagnosis of celiac disease.

Newspapers and websites like Web MD are telling you that you are more likely to get type 2 diabetes if you don't eat lots of foods containing gluten every single day. However, the claim that you can get type 2 diabetes just from going gluten free is absurd.

And here's why:

Pinterest Image: Fluffy Jelly Donuts Filled with Gluten

What are the Allegations Regarding Type 2 Diabetes and Avoiding Gluten?

The data collected from this after-the-fact observational study doesn't prove anything. Even Web MD was careful to note that association doesn't mean causation. I need to make that point clear before we look into the study further.

Observations are opinions, but opinions coming from those you believe are authoritative can carry a lot of weight. This is why you need to do your own research and come to your own conclusions.

Out of the 200,000 professionals followed by the Harvard research team, 1,600 were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes over a 30 year period.

Those who ate 4 grams of gluten or less per day, the amount of gluten in a single slice of bread, were 13% more likely to get type 2 diabetes than those who ate more than 12 grams of gluten a day. This fact is what the team used to form their opinion.

Obviously, this observation doesn't prove that eating gluten free causes or even contributes to type 2 diabetes because those eating a high-gluten diet were also among those diagnosed with diabetes.

This was just an observation that these Harvard researchers made using the data from a health study that wasn't designed to look for gluten intake associated with diabetes in the first place.

It was something they decided to do after-the-fact.

The Truth About Type 2 Diabetes

According to the National Institute of Health, type 2 diabetes is caused by genetics and lifestyle.

This means that a lack of daily activity and overweight or obesity, which leads to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, is the path to type 2 diabetes.

Not gluten.

Type 2 begins with insulin resistance.

Trying to blame diabetes on gluten itself is a huge stretch.

Insulin resistance occurs when your liver, muscles, and fat cells don't respond to the insulin in the bloodstream. They literally can't see it's there.

Insulin is secreted by the pancreas in response to digestion, as foods are broken down into glucose. The presence of insulin in the blood signals the liver and body cells that glucose is available for use. This is how the liver knows your blood sugar is high, so it stops secreting glucose into the bloodstream.

Glucagon is secreted when blood sugar is low. Glucagon's presence in the bloodstream tells the liver that it needs to convert glycogen, the storage form of carbohydrates, into glucose because the body is running low on fuel.

Insulin's job is to keep your blood glucose level within a tight margin of safety by opposing glucagon, as needed.

However, if the liver doesn't know that insulin is there, or if it can't see the insulin due to insulin resistance, the liver will believe that your blood sugar is too low and continue to dump more and more glucose into the bloodstream.

The pancreas sees all of that elevated blood glucose, so it continues to make and secrete insulin until enough insulin has been made and secreted to overcome the resistance.

When the pancreas cannot make enough insulin to overcome the problem, blood glucose stays too high, and type 2 diabetes results.

Insulin production is like a two-year-old when you don't pay attention to him or her. A child will yell, scream, jump, bounce, stomp their foot, hit you, or whatever else they feel they need to do to get your attention.

The body behaves in the same way.

Insulin is continually secreted until the liver responds to its presence.

Type 2 diabetes runs in families. It comes with a very strong hereditary component. If you have the genes, or tendency to become diabetic, lifestyle may or may not slow down its progression.

This is what a doctor who specialized in diabetes and asthma told me when he diagnosed me with pre-diabetes.

If you are genetically predisposed to getting diabetes, there is not much you can do to stop the progression. Just slow it down. While lifestyle plays a role in those who are not genetically predisposed to the condition, genetics is king.

Not gluten.

What Damages Beta Cells?

Additional factors outside heredity that can contribute to diabetes are:
  • gene mutations
  • certain disease states
  • damage of the pancreas
  • inadequate number of beta cells
  • some medications
Beta cells are the actual cells that create and secrete insulin.

Gene mutations affect the ability of the pancreas to make insulin, but there is actually a lot of things that can damage beta cells and, therefore, interfere with insulin production and secretion outside of heredity or genetic damage. Some of these factors are:
  • too much niacin (B3) intake
  • diuretics (water pills)
  • glucocorticoids
  • psychiatric drugs
  • anti-seizure medications
  • pesticides
  • endocrine disruptors
  • statins
  • elevated cortisol
Glucocorticoids include treatments for inflammatory conditions like:
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • asthma (inhalers and preventive meds)
  • lupus
  • and ulcerative colitis
Statins increase your risk for type 2 diabetes because they affect liver function.

What Types of Diabetes are Associated with Celiac Disease?

When insulin is in short supply due to beta-cell death, the diagnosis is Maturity-Onset Diabetes of the Young (MODY), rather than type 2.

This type of diabetes has been labeled type 1-1/2 because it's due to insulin insufficiency, rather than insulin resistance.

In type 1-1/2 diabetes, the pancreas can't produce enough insulin because too many beta cells have been destroyed. The body does have the capacity to regenerate beta cells, if you can keep your blood glucose in a normal range, but diet and lifestyle changes may or may not be able to reverse the condition.

Girls Laying on Hood of Truck Upside Down
Diet and lifestyle changes can help you reverse
type 1 diabetes, but there is no guarantee that your
body will regenerate new beta cells.

Type 1 diabetes is often diagnosed in children, and strongly associated with celiac disease, due to it being an autoimmune condition where the body attacks the pancreas itself. Type 1-1/2 occurs during adolescence, early adulthood, and even later on in life due to the rate of beta cell death being larger than the body can recover from.

Type 1 diabetes and MODY (type 1-1/2) are more common in those with celiac disease, than type 2, due to the autoimmune factor involved. The immune system can attack the pancreas, and when it does, beta cell death and pancreatic damage or inflammation results.

But none of these factors have anything to do with a gluten-free diet.

The Role of Elevated Cortisol in Beta Cell Death

Cushing's Syndrome occurs when your body over secretes cortisol, which then leads to insulin resistance and diabetes.

Over secretion isn't the only way that cortisol levels stay elevated, however. Your emotional health, attitude, and tendency toward negative thought patterns and excessive worry habits play a role in cortisol elevation, as well.

In other words, insulin resistance and future type 2 diabetes can very well be a product of the mind and your emotional state, due to the effect that stress hormones and similar chemicals released during stress affect the body.

Likewise, undiagnosed and untreated celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity can also keep cortisol levels high and result in insulin resistance and eventually type 2 diabetes.

Hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, Hashimoto's disease, and Graves' Disease all result is insulin resistance and eventually type 2 diabetes if not treated in a timely manner.

Same goes for wheat allergies and other food sensitivities.

Like type 1 and 1-1/2 diabetes, when you have Graves' disease or Hashimoto's disease, the body attacks the thyroid, believing it to be an enemy. In some cases, this is brought on by mistaking the thyroid to be gluten, due to its molecular structure.

For this reason, it's common in celiacs and those with other forms of gluten intolerance to have both thyroid and elevated cortisol issues.

Where the Study About Gluten and Type 2 Diabetes Breaks Down

In the 1980s, celiac disease was considered extremely rare. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity did not even exist, so where did this idea for an observational study on gluten consumption among medical professionals actually come from?

The media took the news and twisted it to tell the same old lie they always have:

“Gluten-free foods often have less dietary fibre and other micronutrients, making them less nutritious, and they tend to cost more,” Geng Zong supposedly told The Telegraph. He also believed that the higher risk for diabetes came from eating less grain fiber.

Gluten-free bread does not contain less dietary fiber than whole wheat bread. 

Check out the labels for yourself. 

Compare a good loaf of gluten-free bread with a quality loaf of whole wheat bread, and you'll see what I mean.

Fiber count is pretty much the same.


Because most brands of gluten-free bread include:
  • sorghum flour
  • millet flour
  • brown rice flour
  • flaxmeal
  • psyllium husks
And other high-fiber grains and seeds.

This is why I have to make my own breads at home. I can't find a brand in our area that only uses white rice flour, potato starch, and tapioca starch.

The whole idea that many of these study participants came down with type 2 diabetes because they were eating less grain fiber is ridiculous.

In fact the amount they were eating fell right in line with the Old Weight Watchers Exchange Plan, popular in the 1980s, which was actually taken from the diabetic exchange diet used to treat type 2 diabetes back then.

When you have type 2 diabetes, the first line of treatment is to get you to drop at least 10 percent of your current weight.

Eating a gluten-free or reduced gluten diet has been a major part of several popular weight-loss diets over the years, with no significant increase of diabetes noted. It was only when the Harvard researchers went looking for something to blame gluten on that the idea of gluten contributing to type 2 diabetes surfaced.

Case in point:

The International Diabetes Federation states that 1 in 11 adults worldwide have diabetes. If you take the above study's 200,000 participants and separate out 11% of them, you get 22,000 people who would normally develop diabetes, regardless of their gluten intake.

How many of the study participants came down with type 2 diabetes over that 30 year period?

Only 16,000!

If you take the 22,000 people projected to have diabetes at some point in their lives and subtract the 16,000 who actually came down with diabetes during the study period, you get 6,000 people who escaped a type 2 diabetes diagnosis over those 30 years while eating gluten free.

Those on Gluten-Free Diets Have a Lower Risk of Getting Type 2 Diabetes

Typical Gluten-Free Meal: Roast, potatoes, cabbage, carrots, and peas
Gluten-Free meals can result in LESS RISK for
coming down with diabetes, due to how you eat
when compared to the average American.

The reality is that overall:

Those who ate gluten-free or reduced-gluten diets had LESS RISK for coming down with type 2 diabetes when compared to the normal population who eats a lot of gluten foods each and every day.

In the U.S., the stats for type 2 diabetes are lower than they are for the world's population.

Here in the States, 9.3% of the adult population – as of 2015 – have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Even with those lower stats, 18,600 participants in the study should have come down with diabetes.

They didn't.

Even if all of the participants were U.S. citizens, the stats still show that when compared to the average American diet, that is loaded with sugar, carbs, and gluten -- eating gluten-free or even gluten-reduced diets carry LESS RISK for getting type 2 diabetes than those eating lots of starchy carbs.

What You Need to Know About Diabetes and Gluten-Free Diets

About 1% of the world's population has celiac disease, an autoimmune condition triggered by eating gluten.

Since the immune system response to the presence of gluten harms the villi and lining of the small intestine and potentially other body organs, the only way to calm your immune system down is to eliminate all forms of gluten from your diet and environment.

Simply avoiding foods that contain gluten does not give you insulin resistance. That's silly.

However, if you have autoimmune thyroid disease or an autoimmune reaction that attacks the pancreas, due to a gluten mistaken-identity, you can end up with type 2 diabetes from NOT going gluten free and avoiding all of the potential forms of cross contamination that you can.

Likewise, many of the health issues described above can be avoided or improved by going gluten free.

A gluten-free diet is not necessarily low in carbs and is not any more nutrient depleted than the average American diet. Most of the arguments against going gluten free are based on an American diet that doesn't exist.

Many celiacs have stated time and time again that they eat healthier now than before they went gluten free.

Look in the grocery carts at the store. What are people actually buying?
  • Carts filled with produce? Fresh fruits and vegetables?
  • Whole grain breads and crackers?
  • Fresh meat?
  • Standard dairy products, such as cheese, sour cream, plain yogurt, and milk?
Not likely.

If your area is like mine, people are living on:
  • sugary cold cereals
  • fluffy white breads and buns
  • peanut butter and jelly/jam
  • processed luncheon meat
  • processed cheese slices
  • grilled cheese and canned tomato soup
  • boxed mac and cheese
  • hot dogs and sausages
  • frozen entrees like pizza and TV dinners
  • frozen burritos
  • Top Ramen soup
  • packaged cookies
  • potato chips
  • soda and kool-aid
Sure, there might be a package of chicken tossed into the cart for Sunday dinner, and maybe some white rice, potatoes, canned green beans, and white flour tortillas, but the above is NOT an exaggeration.

It's what I've watched people eat throughout my entire life.

If nutritionists and researchers actually believe that people are eating fresh meat, produce, and whole grains, they live in a fantasy world. A diet filled with:
  • processed meats
  • canned vegetables
  • boxes of macaroni and fake cheese
  • packaged cookies
  • and corn chips
Is not healthier than a gluten-free diet. That's ridiculous.

Gluten-free, or not, your diet is as healthy as you want it to be.

If you have diabetes in your family genes, like I do, then by all means, take the steps necessary to lower your risks and improve your insulin sensitivity, but don't be afraid of eating gluten free.

Skipping that white-flour fluffy bun and eating your cheeseburger with a fork will not give you diabetes. That's just a lie dreamed up by those who can't profit from you eating a whole foods, healthy diet.