As if dealing with one autoimmune disease diagnosis isn’t enough, people with type 1 diabetes (T1D) have a higher risk of being diagnosed with a second one — and celiac disease is a common possibility.
Over the years, research has found that anywhere from 6 to 8 to 19.7 percent of people with T1D also have celiac disease, a digestive disorder caused by an abnormal immune reaction to gluten. There is no research to indicate that one truly causes the other, but these two conditions do go hand-in-hand, at what seems to be an increasing rate.
For that reason, Ginger Viera (a writer for DiabetesMine) compiled this guide to facts about celiac disease, and tips for living well with both celiac disease and T1D. I appreciate Ginger reaching out to me for this article. The sections below are where Ginger mentions me.
Celiac disease and blood sugar levels
“With celiac disease, the only treatment is to avoid gluten,” confirms advocate and author Gina Meagher, who’s lived with T1D for over 45 years and celiac disease for 30, and written books about both conditions.
“Granted, that’s not always easy to do. But the approach is at least simpler than diabetes,” says Meagher. “But if you’re not managing it properly, it can really create havoc with your blood sugar.”
Meagher is referring to the ongoing damage that regular consumption of gluten will do to the lining of your gut, leading to malabsorption of essential nutrients (including carbohydrates and essential vitamins and minerals).
“And that means your blood sugar could be all over the place,” Meagher says. This of course adds to the abundance of variables a person with T1D already faces.
Get educated and connected
After a celiac disease diagnosis, the guidance of “just don’t eat gluten” may leave some people feeling lost and frustrated.
“Educate yourself,” says Meagher. “Use reputable sources like the National Celiac Association and the Gluten Intolerance Group. There is a lot of misinformation out there!”
Meagher also recommends seeking out local celiac disease/gluten intolerance support groups, learning from others how to best fill the void (and cravings) that a gluten-free life may leave you with.
“The individuals involved in these groups have a wealth of information on tips and tricks for navigating the gluten-free lifestyle — at school, food substitutes, eating at restaurants, great recipes, etc.”
There’s a reason that the national magazine on the gluten-free diet is called “Living Without.” It can be difficult to avoid all normal baked goods, pasta, and more while others around you are enjoying these foods.
“Don’t let your condition(s) hold you back from living your life the way you want to live it,” says Meagher. She says that with the myriad of delicious GF alternates out there, she’s not even tempted.
“It really is a cause-and-effect reaction. I have extreme abdominal distress when I eat gluten that lasts several days. Certainly not pleasant!”
“I also tend to have food in my bag and my pockets that I can pull out if nothing is ‘safe’ for me to eat when I’m out.”
Meagher adds that many of her friends are especially supportive by providing gluten-free alternatives at gatherings, or altering recipes to make foods GF when they invite her over for a meal.
While some people can “get away” with cheating a bit here and there, others simply cannot. But keep in mind that the lining of your gut is being damaged whether you feel the symptoms or not.
Meagher suggests most of all skip the self-pity and embrace celiac disease as yet another challenge in life that you boldly take on each day.
“Do you have to live with a few limitations? Well, yes. Do you have to plan a little more? Sure. But in the larger picture, that’s just life. We all have circumstances or situations, chronic or otherwise, that we must deal with every day. The key is to find solutions or at least workarounds so that those circumstances or situations won’t stop us.”