Celiac disease is a disorder that makes the person hypersensitive to gluten – a protein typically found in grains such as rye, barley and wheat. According to statistics, almost 1% of the US population suffers from celiac disease. Here’s how to know if you are gluten intolerant.
When an intolerant person consumes gluten containing foods, the immune system responds by causing damage to the small intestine, which can cause diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain or fatigue.
Several gene mutations can trigger celiac disease, but only 2-3% of people who have these mutations develop gluten intolerance.
Some facts about celiac disease:
- In France, the rate of those diagnosed does not exceed 10 to 20%.
- A gluten-free diet is the only treatment.
- 5 to 22% of people with celiac disease have a first degree relative who also suffers from the same.
Symptoms of celiac disease:
Consuming gluten for a person who is intolerant equals to intake of a toxic material in the body.
This causes an immediate immune response and may result in the appearance of several symptoms:
- Gastrointestinal disorders: because of this intolerance, the body becomes unable to digest gluten, which causes damage to the small intestine which cannot absorb vitamins properly, and the consequence is pain in the stomach, bloating, flatulence, diarrhea, etc.
- Neurological disorders: celiac disease can also cause unexplained mood swings, dizziness, confusion, lack of concentration, depression, anxiety, etc.
- Headaches: people hypersensitive to gluten suffer from migraines and very recurrent headaches.
- Rash: gluten allergy is no exception to the rule: it causes redness, itching, which usually occurs on the arms, thighs and face. Moreover psoriasis, eczema and keratosis pilaris (chicken skin appearance) are the typical signs.
- Weakened immune system: eating gluten puts strain on the immune system that concentrates all its reactions against it. Thus, it becomes weaker and the body is easily attacked by the disease.
- Hormonal disorders: gluten is also responsible for disorders affecting the production of hormones: it promotes the stress hormone imbalance and sex hormones imbalance, which can lead to infertility.
- Joint pain: inflammatory properties of this protein are a source of pain and chronic joint swelling.
- Chronic fatigue: also known as fibromyalgia, it is often accompanied by general pain and sleep disorders.
Scientific research and gluten
Dr. Elena F. Verdu, senior researcher at Family Digestive Health Research Institute at McMaster University in Canada, examined with her team how the immune responses to gluten varied with colonies of these intestinal bacteria in mouse hypersensitive to gluten.
The results were published in The American Journal of Pathology.
In response to eating gluten, the germ-free mice (free of pathogen) showed signs of celiac disease.
The researchers analyzed three groups of mice bearing commonly known DQ8 gene that is also found in humans and making them genetically predisposed to gluten intolerance: the first group was axsenic, the second was specific pathogens free (SPF: specific-pathogen-free: whose microbiota or intestinal flora does not contain proteobacteria or opportunistic pathogens), and the last was made of conventional mice (with a range of intestinal bacteria).
After exposing each of the three groups to gluten, the researchers noted that:
– The axsenic group showed a high level of intraepithelial lymphocytes (LEL) in the intestines – the activation and production is the first indicator of celiac disease – as well as a higher rate of death of enterocytes (cells on the gastrointestinal tract) and anatomical changes of the intestinal villi (mucosal structures and underlying connective tissue of the small intestine).
– The SPF mouse, unlike the first, faced their immune reaction to gluten inhibited, except when they were supplemented with Escherichia coli from a patient with celiac disease.
– Conventional mice showed better tolerance to gluten.
These primary results led the team of scientists to investigate whether the presence of proteobacteria such as Escherichia or Helicobacter pylori had any effect, so they administered vancomycin (antibiotic) to conventional mice to increase the level of proteobacteria. Result: The response to gluten in these mice worsened, and the level of LEL increased.
The proliferation of proteobacteria creates immune response to gluten.
“These studies show that disruption of the bacteria colonization at an early age as well as the induction of dysbiosis (or microbial imbalance in the body), characterized by a proliferation of proteobacteria, leads to increased immune responses to gluten in mice genetically predisposed to gluten sensitivity”, says Dr. Verdu.
However, Dr Robin G. Lorenz of the University of Alabama at Birmingham reported in an editorial related to the study that the presence of proteobacteria had a significant impact on the pathology of celiac disease, but that does not mean that the proteobacteria are responsible for this disorder. More specifically, they stimulate the immune response to gluten or gliadin.