Type 1 Diabetes and Food Allergies

Allergies are the reaction of the immune system to something it believes is foreign and dangerous to the body.

Food allergies are due to the immune system in the gut or blood stream, becoming reactive to food proteins. Food allergies can be very difficult to identify because they have a diverse spectrum of mild to moderate symptoms, although they can have devastating effects on health with long term exposure.

Many parents have experienced milk allergies in their toddlers with symptoms such as asthma, eczema (skin rashes), and digestive problems. While removing milk from their diet resolves the symptoms, some pediatricians will just advise a concerned parent not to worry as their child will outgrow the allergy. While the pediatric symptoms may appear to resolve the susceptible child’s immune system now has a higher risk of becoming overactive which, over time, may cause damage to virtually any organ or tissue in the human body, including the pancreas.

Food allergies complicate the way a diabetic responds to treatment, whether insulin or non-insulin dependent. Because diabetes is a metabolic disorder, the complications caused by food allergies may make diabetes more difficult to control.

Studies suggest that 4 to 9 percent of children diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes also have the autoimmune disease called celiac disease (an allergy to gluten/wheat.) Although 60 to 70% of these kids have no celiac symptoms as children, over time the intestinal wall will be severely damaged by the immune system resulting in chronic malabsorption issues and GI distress as adults.

Doctors routinely test for celiac disease in those newly diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, but a study from Italy indicates that cow’s milk may also be an trigger for Type 1 diabetes. Significantly increased levels of antibodies to cow’s milk (beta-casein) were found in patients with Type 1 Diabetes, celiac disease and latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA), leaving the study’s authors to conclude that the elevated beta-casein antibody levels in these three types of autoimmune patients would indicate that cow’s milk may actually be a relevant trigger in autoimmune diabetes (Hormone Metabolic Research, 2002 Aug;34(8):455-9). Additionally, it was identified that 75% of Type 1 diabetics are allergic to their own pancreatic cells. Research conducted in Australia and Italy found a correlation between the albumin from cow’s milk (which is similar in makeup to pancreatic cells) and the aggressiveness of the autoimmune attack on the pancreas. The stronger the reaction to cow’s milk protein, the stronger the attack on the pancreatic cells responsible for insulin production.

To complicate matters further, autoimmune diabetics (Type 1 diabetics and LADA) must consider eggs as another autoimmune trigger. ”Children with insulin-dependent diabetes show an enhanced immune response to both b-lactoglobulin and ovalbumin, a phenomenon that may be related to the development of the disease. Conditions related to ovalbumin intolerance usually resolve once egg and egg based foods have been withdrawn from the patient’s diet.”

What does this mean to you? It means if you have a family member diagnosed with insulin dependent diabetes, they should be tested for celiac, wheat sensitivity, cow’s milk allergy or sensitivity and egg allergy or sensitivity.

Further studies are identifying that these food allergies and sensitivities create a form of insulin resistance, complicating the management of blood sugar. In Europe, over a decade ago, it was noted that the RDW of those with wheat issues was often abnormally high with the width of the red blood cells being too big. This type of cellular edema to blood and body tissues may create insulin resistance making it harder for insulin uptake to occur from the bloodstream. If the foods that create this cellular pathology are eliminated, the insulin resistance should resolve.

Finally, saturated fat affects heart health and insulin resistance. Research at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine found that saturated fats cause immune cells to activate producing an inflammatory protein called interleukin-1 Beta leaving organs and tissues insulin resistance.

Given this knowledge, how should a autoimmune diabetic define a “heathy” diet? The diet should always be in saturated fats, but from there, each diabetic may have their own unique definition of “healthy” diet, that is somewhat different from the average population. Some may need to avoid wheat, milk or eggs, while others may need to avoid all of these items. Some may find that other commonly consumed foods are their autoimmune triggers.

For those with autoimmune type diabetes, who would like to control their symptoms more effectively, food allergy and food sensitivity testing is a must.

Crosby Chiropractic & Acupuncture Centre can assist you with testing for common food allergies. If you suspect you have food allergies or food sensitivities and would like to be tested, you can contact us at (636) 928-5588.