I am a Type 1 Diabetic who is living insulin-free. You read that right! I do not take artificial insulin injections! This post is the beginning of a series of posts that outline how and why I can manage my Type 1 Diabetes through diet and lifestyle. The first step is key: go gluten-free. It is not widely spread information, but it IS out there. The effect of gluten on the gut and the resulting autoimmune diseases (Remember, type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease!) is published in medical journals. I will provide links to what I’ve read and watched. Take the time to read the links provided. I believe they will change your life and health dramatically, even if you don’t have Type 1 Diabetes.
Not all of the principles I’ve discovered come from Type 1 Diabetes research. Many of the principles I’ve learned come from Type 2 Diabetes research, Celiacs, or just autoimmune diseases in general. I believe in reading all the information you can, synthesizing it (make it all make sense together…really understand what you read), and applying it to your health situation. It reminds me of a Dr. Seuss quote from one of my favorite books of my kids’:
The more that you read
The more things you will know.
The more that you learn
The more places you’ll go.
~Dr. Suess, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!
I want to offer hope to other adult-onset, Type 1 Diabetics (T1D). A T1D diagnosis is not a death sentence. It is a manageable disease, and I have found that it is even more manageable than you will hear from your doctor’s office. You can thrive in better health than you ever were prior to your Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis.
Want to know how? I’m so glad you asked.
Let me give you a little history on my family, and my person health journey.
- My brother was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a 9 year old, around 1990. From a young age, I was familiar with blood sugar (glucose) monitoring, insulin injections, and sugar awareness.
- When my brother graduated from college and began to see an endocrinologist for his diabetes management, he (and through him, me) learned the new system of diabetes care: carb counting and using two types of insulin to manage blood sugar level: long acting and fast acting insulin.
- My brother’s oldest daughter is diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes as a young girl, around 4 or 5 years old.
- My father was diagnosed as a Type 1 Diabetic in his 50’s, around 2010. His diagnosis was long and drawn-out as adult-onset diabetes was not as common then. He has elevated amounts of the antibody GAD65 present in his system which is the key to a Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis (versus Type 2).
- At 29 years old, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes during my first pregnancy in 2013. I was able to control my blood glucose levels with diet and exercise. Upon giving birth, I was declared diabetes-free, so I resumed my usual lifestyle and eating habits (home-cooked meals BUT included wheat, dairy, and not enough vegetables).
- At 31 years old, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes again during my second pregnancy in 2015. This time, I knew the symptoms, and I knew the weekend my pancreas could no longer keep up with my carbohydrate intake. I gave birth in June 2015 and was declared diabetes-free at my 6 week check-up.
- For the next two years, I ate what I thought was a healthy diet (homemade, whole wheat sourdough bread, whole foods, home-cooked meals, moderate amounts of fruit and vegetables). In April 2017, I felt the symptoms hit again: severe thirst (drinking a gallon of water or more a day), frequent urination, and blurred vision). I knew I had diabetes. Sure enough, within one week’s time, I had a Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis (GAD65 levels were off the chart, A1c of 9.6, and diagnosis blood glucose level of 512).
- I was diagnoses with Type 1 Diabetes at 33 years old after 2 cases of gestational diabetes.
Based on my history and my family’s history, I thought I knew all there was to know about Type 1 Diabetes. Initially, I did not look for alternative methods to manage my diabetes. I thought carbohydrate counting and matching my insulin intake to the carbohydrates I consumed was all I needed to know.
A week or so into my insulin-managed diabetes, I was forwarded this blog by a friend. Mark’s Daily Apple promotes a primal diet and how it can completely change your life and health. That night, I dug in to the Diabetes category. I dug in deep; I followed citation after citation: blog articles, medical journals, newspaper clippings, book prefaces, tons of them.
My husband was busy that night. He came home to a dark house and me glued to my computer screen, reading like my life depended on it.
“Honey, what are you doing??” he asks as he clicks on the lights.
“I think I need to go gluten-free” I say, “I think gluten could be causing Type 1 Diabetes.”
“Ok” he responds. We head off to bed discussing how I would do it. I don’t think it will take too much since we already didn’t eat processed food which has wheat hidden everywhere! I just need to not eat our delicious homemade bread, no big deal.
I immediately was able to stop bolusing at meal time, and over the course of 4 days, I weaned myself off my long acting insulin.
Did you catch that? I stopped taking my fast-acting insulin the day I went gluten-free! I was completely artificial insulin-free 4 days later!
**A little tidbit I just read in Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD.
The concept that diabetes should be regarded as a disease of carbohydrate intolerance is beginning to gain ground in the medical community. Diabetes as a by-product of carbohydrate intolerance is actively being advocated by Dr. Erin Westman of Duke University; Dr. Mary Vernon, former medical director of the University of Kansas Weight Control program…Drs. Westman and Vernon report, for instance, that they typically need to reduce the insulin dose by 50% the first day a patient engages in reducing carbohydrates to avoid excessively low blood sugars.
The quote above is only regarding carbohydrates, not wheat specifically, but it is comforting that others are seeing what I am seeing, even if only in part!**
The gluten withdrawal symptoms were real and hard. I made my husband take me to the emergency room I was so convinced I was dying. Visible shakes, tremors in my chest, and feeling faint and dizzy are all symptoms I was experiencing. I couldn’t sit upright because I would start to pass out. It was an intense afternoon/evening! It took 6 days for me to start to feel normal again, and once I did, my blood glucose numbers stabilized to (almost) normal range, for a Type 1 Diabetic.
That is how I found out about gluten’s link to Type 1 Diabetes. Below are some facts and findings with the supporting articles that I read that convinced me to get rid of gluten in my life. These are the tip of the iceberg! There is SO much information out there! Read these articles, follow the citations to find more information. Read! Take back control of your health!
Type 1 Diabetes Remission
This was one of my first Google searches when I was still hopeful that my diagnosis was a fluke. Unfortunately for my hope, it does happen! It’s not common, but it has occurred.
Remission of a 6 Year Old Boy by Gluten-Free Diet – If you read nothing else, READ THIS ARTICLE! This was it. This convinced me to give gluten-free a try. At this point, I had nothing to loose. As I’ve done more and more research since, it has supported the findings in this first article.
It is important to note that to preserve maximum pancreatic function, the gluten-free diet needs to be implemented as soon as possible after diagnosis. The pancreas does not grow new beta cells (at least not that we know of); so to preserve insulin production, gluten needs to be eliminated right away. Not to say that other long-term diabetics couldn’t benefit from a gluten-free diet. They will experience more stable blood sugars, elimination of other autoimmune ailments, and less insulin need. Win, win, win, right?
Gluten’s Link to Type 1 Diabetes
Once I decided to go gluten-free, I needed to understand why gluten could cause or be linked to Type 1 Diabetes. I didn’t understand autoimmune diseases at the time, so the connection really made no sense to me.
Here’s the boiled-down, Emily version: gluten causes the walls of the gut to become inflamed allowed partially digested food particles into the body. The body’s immune system sees the foreign substances and attacks the intruders (an autoimmune response). However, sometimes, the attack goes awry and the immune system begins attacking cells other than the intruder/gluten cells.
In the case of Type 1 Diabetes, the immune system begins attacking the beta cells in the pancreas. The immune system can attack other things which lead to different autoimmune diseases: thyroid, skin, joints, etc. resulting in hypo/hyper-thyroidism, eczema, rheumatoid arthritis, etc. In fact, if the gluten issue is not addressed, other autoimmune diseases can develop. Below is a quote from the previous article:
Prolonged exposure to gluten in CD (patient’s with Celiacs) may promote the development of other autoimmune diseases.
Even though this quote is in regards to Celiac patients, it holds true for all autoimmune diseases. The presence of an autoimmune response in the body sets the stage for the immune system to attack other areas of the body resulting in another autoimmune disease. In order to stop the body from these autoimmune responses, the irritant must be removed from the body (wheat) so that the autoimmune response will stop. When wheat is removed from the body, the inflammation manifested in skin, joints, organs, etc. will stop. It will go down and the body returns to normal.
Bottom line: Heal your gut. A permeable gut lining is the source of autoimmune diseases or maybe eating wheat which causes inflammation in the gut and causes the body to release zonulin which increases gut permeability is the source of autoimmune diseases. It’s complicated, but it all centers around the gut. Heal it. Take care of it. You whole body will thank you.
Read this article for a thorough review of Type 1 Diabetes and other potential causes (dairy being one in addition to gluten! I’ll touch on this in another post.)
This post from Mark’s Daily Apple also has many great ideas on how to manage Type 1 Diabetes with tons of good sources to read.
In summary, I gave up gluten because it was inflaming my gut and causing my body to attack my pancreas. I believe by going gluten-free, I have stopped my body from attacking my pancreas. I will be honest; I do not know this as fact yet.
There is a “honeymoon” period after a Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis where the pancreas can spontaneously start working better again. I do not believe I am in the honeymoon period because my pancreas did not spontaneously start producing more insulin. I would still be on artificial insulin if I had not changed my diet. My blood glucose returned to T1D “normal” only after I began a gluten-free diet, and even then, I was taking artificial insulin for a few days afterward until it was very clear that I did not need it anymore.
Thankfully, my C-peptide results are normal which is a great sign of insulin production working as it should. However, my blood sugar levels are definitely not normal so I know my pancreas is not working at full capacity. I believe I can preserve the currently level of insulin production by continuing my gluten-free diet. My hope is I can prolong it indefinitely. Time will tell, and I will be sure to let you know.
Thoughts? What have you read? Please share any and all resources and questions!