Diabetes and Coeliac Disease


duodenum coeliac diseaseHave you experienced any adverse reactions like vomiting, diarrhea or breathlessness after consuming foods made of wheat, rye or barley? If you are a diabetic, then you should know that there is a link between diabetes and coeliac disease. Type 1 diabetics are more at risk of developing this disease. Gluten (a common protein) present in wheat, rye and barley sometimes causes an adverse reaction to the immune system causing damage to the lining of the small intestine.

Damage to the small intestine and its lining results in improper absorption of the food. This leads to vomiting, diarrhea, breathlessness or abdominal pain.


Similar to diabetes, coeliac disease symptoms can be very subtle. Some patients may not exhibit any symptoms at all. Common symptoms include:

  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lethargy
  • Breathlessness
  • Abdominal pain


Gluten is a combination of gliadin and glutenin (proteins). When it mixes with water, it forms a sticky dough like texture. When this reaches the small intestine, it causes a reaction due to which the body’s immune system attacks the villi (tiny linings of the intestine). The villi are attacked and destroyed due to coeliac disease.

This results in improper absorption of nutrients, leading to problems. Most people affected by coeliac disease inherit this condition from any family member who has it.

How will coeliac disease affect you if you are a diabetic?

The topic Diabetes and coeliac disease has been a subject of many researches. The findings of these studies have established a link between both these conditions in adolescents, children and adults. Experts suggest that more attention needs to be given on this link and all diabetic patients must be screened for coeliac disease.

In some cases, this disease may cause abdominal pain and symptoms leading to diabetes diagnosis. If it is not detected early, it may cause impaired carbohydrate absorption leading to hypoglycemia.

Do you need to follow a specific diet if you have diabetes and coeliac disease?

Diet is very essential to manage both coeliac disease and diabetes. The first thing you need to do is adhere to a strict gluten-free diet. Carbohydrates are an integral part of a diet, but people with diabetes and coeliac disease need to avoid certain staple carbohydrate sources like cereal, bread, pasta, cakes and biscuits.

One alternative is to replace these foods with gluten-free substitutes. But these substitutes lack the original taste and texture. If you want to follow a specific diet that is suitable for both the conditions, then you might face the following difficulties:

  • Very limited choice of foods
  • Limited gluten-free foods
  • Some foods labelled as gluten-free can still contain traces of it
  • Increased spending due to high price of gluten-free foods

What kind of effects can diabetes and coeliac disease have on your daily life?

The effects of living with both these conditions can be difficult and harrowing. The individual and his/her family should take up the responsibility of dealing with these conditions. Children find it really tough to deal with diabetes and coeliac disease as they cannot enjoy normal food along with their friends or family.

It also leads to behavioral and emotional problems in both children and adults.

What can you do to deal with these effects?

Firstly, you need to recognize the symptoms of both these conditions in the early stages itself. This is possible only if you go for a regular health check-up. If you have diabetes, ensure that you get screened for coeliac disease too.

Secondly, you need to make some alterations to your diet. You cannot do it on your own. So consult your doctor and dietitian to come up with a suitable diet plan.

Thirdly, don’t hesitate to tell your friends, peers and colleagues that you are suffering from both diabetes and coeliac disease. Although initially you might find it tough to fit in with the rest, it would be fine once people are aware of your condition. If you are planning to eat out, don’t hesitate to tell the restaurant staff about your condition. Most restaurants would have healthier options for people suffering from coeliac disease.


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