In the last few days, news swept the diabetes and celiac communities as researchers reported finding another link connecting the two auto-immune disorders. Good research to be sure, but I wanted to know what people who deal with these diseases every day thought. Is the research encouraging?

Living with Celiac & Diabetes

I talked with Naomi Hall whose son has both type 1 diabetes and celiac disease. His diagnoses on both diseases came six years ago when he was 14. “I remember the young intern doctor saying, ‘some people feel that the celiac disease is harder to handle than the diabetes,’” Hall recalled. As they awaited the biopsy appointment, the family got used to managing the diabetes, and then started him on the gluten-free diet after the biopsy, which confirmed celiac disease.

Hall thought the study released in the New England Journal of Medicine this month was “interesting”, but not as “…’groundbreaking’ as there has been a known link between diabetes and celiac for quite a while.” The study identified common genetic mutations between the two diseases. US News and World Report picked up on this study and said the common genetic mutations suggest “…that the two inflammatory disorders may stem from a shared underlying mechanism. The finding also suggests that the two diseases may be triggered by similar environmental factors.”

Could Research Lead to Prevention?

Senior author of the study, John Todd, of the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom said “…much more research needs to go into investigating the environmental factors involved.” One possibility is whether knowing susceptibility to these diseases may help us prevent them. Weimin He, assistant professor at the Texas A & M Health Science Center Institute of Biosciences and Technology in Houston told US News and World Report, “In future studies, it will be interesting to determine whether intake of gluten-free food will significantly decrease the incidence of type 1 diabetes in those who have genetic mutations and are thus more susceptible to type 1 diabetes.”

That’s what Naomi Hall wonders, “…if there had been a genetic test as a baby that showed a tendency toward celiac, if we’d gone totally gluten-free…maybe that would have prevented him from having diabetes? That is what is promising about the research into the genetic links between diabetes and celiac.” Hall is thankful for research like this. Some day she hopes studies into diabetes and celiac will result in a cure for both diseases.

In the meantime, she says her son is managing both diseases well. “He has gone to college and now plans to travel abroad. It takes extra planning and thought before trips and other activities, but you learn how to handle things as you go.”

The research on type 1 diabetes and celiac disease can be found in the December issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. It was funded in part by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

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