Type 1 diabetes, also called “childhood” or “insulin-dependent” diabetes, is on the rise.
Type 2 diabetes, or “adult,” diabetes, is also sharply escalating. But the causes for this are easy-to-identify: overconsumption of carbohydrates and resultant weight gain/obesity, inactivity, as well as genetic predisposition. A formerly rare disease is rapidly becoming the scourge of the century, expected to affect 1 in 3 adults within the next several decades.
Type 1 diabetes, on the other hand, generally occurs in young children, not uncommonly age 3 or 4. Type 1 diabetes also shares a genetic basis to some degree. But the genetic predisposition should be a constant. Obviously, lifestyle issues cannot be blamed in young children.
Then why would type 1 diabetes be on the rise?
For instance, this study by Vehik et al from the University of Colorado documents the approximate 3% per year increase in incidence in children with type 1 diabetes between 1978 and 2004:
(From Vehik 2007)
(For an excellent discussion of the increase in type 1 diabetes in the 20th century, see this review.)
This is no small matter. Just ask any parent of a child diagnosed with type 1 diabetes who, after recovering from hearing the devastating diagnosis, then has to stick her child’s fingers to check glucose several times per day, mind carefully what he or she eats or doesn’t eat, watch carefully for signs of life-threatening hypoglycemic episodes, not to mention worry about her child’s long-term health. Type 1 diabetes is a life-changing diagnosis for both child and parents.
Various explanations have been offered to account for this disturbing trend. Some attribute it to the increase in breast feeding since 1980 (highly unlikely), exposure to some unidentified virus, or other exposures.
I’d like to offer another explanation: wheat.
Lest you accuse me of becoming obsessed with this issue, let me point out the four observations that lead me to even consider such an association:
1) Children diagnosed with celiac disease, i.e., the immune disease of wheat gluten exposure, have 10-fold greater likelihood of developing type 1 diabetes.
2) Children diagnosed with type 1 diabetes are 10-fold more likely to have abnormal levels of antibodies (e.g., transglutaminase antibodies) to wheat gluten.
3) Experimental models, such as in these mice genetically susceptible to type 1 diabetes, showed a reduction of type 1 diabetes from 64% to 15% with avoidance of wheat.
4) The increase in type 1 diabetes corresponds to the introduction of new strains of wheat that resulted from the extensive genetics research and hybridizations carried out on this plant in the 1960s. In particular, unique protein antigens (immune-provoking sequences) were introduced with the dwarf variant attributable to alterations in the “D” genome of modern Triticum aestivum.
Proving the point is tough: Would you enroll your newborn in a study of wheat-containing diet versus no wheat, then watch for 10 years to see which group develops more type 1 diabetes? It is a doable study, just a logistical nightmare. Perhaps the point will be settled as more and more people catch onto the fact that modern wheat–or this thing we are being sold called “wheat”–is a corrupt and destructive “foodstuff” and eliminate it from their lives and the lives of their young children from birth onwards. Then a comparison of wheat-consuming versus non-wheat-consuming populations could be made. But it will be many years before this crucial question is settled.
Yet again, however, the footprints in the sand seem to lead back to wheat as potentially underlying an incredible amount of human illness and suffering. Yes, the stuff our USDA puts at the bottom, widest part of the food pyramid.
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