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Researchers Pinpoint Cause of Gluten Allergies 177

An anonymous reader writes "When patients with celiac disease consume foods containing gluten — a protein present in wheat, barley and rye — their immune systems send out an alarm, triggering a response that can damage their intestines and prevent them from absorbing certain nutrients. Now, scientists have pinpointed the culprits most responsible for this harmful reaction: three small fragments within the gluten protein that spark chaos in the gut."
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Researchers Pinpoint Cause of Gluten Allergies

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  • by JamesP ( 688957 ) on Saturday August 07, 2010 @02:57PM (#33174982)

    The deal is simple

    Over cleanliness, over "fear of germs", soccer moms, etc, etc

    let the kids play in dirt and eat stuff, no allergies

  • by duh P3rf3ss3r ( 967183 ) on Saturday August 07, 2010 @03:09PM (#33175050)

    Historically, grains were a much poorer source of gluten than they are now. Through selective breeding and through milling processes that refine flour, wheat flour is now 13 to 23% gluten, depending on a number of factors, with whole grain flour being nearer the lower end of that range.

    In addition, wheat generally and gluten specifically have become ubiquitous in the foods we eat. For example, soy sauce, which can easily be made gluten free, is often mainly wheat nowadays, especially the Japanese varieties of soy sauce. In the past, a person's gluten exposure was probably comparatively low and, combined with shorter life expectancies, gluten allergies were not as problematic.

    Today, with wheat being in all sorts of foodstuffs, gluten allergies are becoming increasingly common, especially among middle-aged and elderly people. Our systems simply become so overwhelmed with gluten that the allergic inflammatory responses become a source of serious illness in some people. When coupled with the malabsoprtion syndrome that accompanies it, since an inflamed, damaged intestinal system absorbs poorly, vitamin deficiencies (especially vitamins E, D and K) gluten allergies cause real illness in many people.

    Such illnesses probably remained sub-clinical in people in previous centuries but now, aided by enhanced severity, we better understand what's happening and we are better able to diagnose the trouble.

    As for peanuts, just think of how peanuts have become readily available the world over and how they are contained in all sorts of foods, now. Historically, peanuts were a local food that formed a small part of the diet for people in areas near where they were found. In ways similar to what I mentioned above, peanut allergies are much more common and much more severe than ever before.


  • by JamesP ( 688957 ) on Saturday August 07, 2010 @03:20PM (#33175114)

    You're right, but the parent was talking about allergies, peanuts, etc not celiac disease :)

    still: http://www.boingboing.net/2010/08/04/westerners-gut-micro.html [boingboing.net]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 07, 2010 @03:31PM (#33175194)

    Many allergies are autoimmune disorders - think about it. Hay fever is your body over-reacting to something in the environment - just that the effect is external, not internal like celiac

  • by Kurofuneparry ( 1360993 ) on Saturday August 07, 2010 @03:44PM (#33175274)

    Hypersensitive and allergic reactions have been understood in medicine in varying degrees since ancient times but as a medical student I can tell you that we still know very little. What we do know? Few if any true allergies are truly genetic. Rather, some genes predispose to gathering many allergies and most allergies are gained well after birth. Any honest researcher in the field will share your wonderment about allergies, because we still have much to learn.

    Actually, stomach cancer is MORE common in less urban/developed habitats. Affluence and American diets decrease stomach cancer. No research has explained this but the data is unambiguous: something about eating while not poor means LESS stomach cancer. I know, usually you hear about how bad the western diet is (and it's true, high fat + low fiber => colon cancer). Ulcers and heartburn have likely plagued people since before civilization as we know it.

  • Re:People Forget (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Gizzmonic ( 412910 ) on Saturday August 07, 2010 @03:50PM (#33175300) Homepage Journal

    Celiac has been around for centuries. Dante Alegheri, poet who composed The Inferno. suffered from it. Peanut allergies have been around as well-it's just that until recently, helicopter parents didn't try and insist that every lunchbag within 5 miles of little Johnny be screened for peanut traces. The increased awareness has fooled you into thinking it's a recent phenomenon-kinda like how fundie churches try to argue that homosexuality didn't exist until the 60's.

    I know it's trendy to hate chemicals because they have long scary names, but we value science a little bit more on this website.

  • My daughter (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bugs2squash ( 1132591 ) on Saturday August 07, 2010 @03:59PM (#33175346)
    was thought to have a sensitivity to gluten and so we cut it out of her diet for a few months. Thankfully gluten did not turn out to be an issue, but it was only after taking the time to read the ingredients list on the things we would normally buy that you find gluten in damn near everything; it's even in soy sauce. It took some effort to avoid.
  • Re:People Forget (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jafiwam ( 310805 ) on Saturday August 07, 2010 @04:18PM (#33175466) Homepage Journal

    People forget peanut allergies and celiac's disease were almost nil until the mid-eighties. What happened in the 80's? Genetically modified food was introduced to the market. Today you can't hardly buy grain/fruit/vegetables that aren't GM and both allergies and celiac's are now considered normal. The fact is it's companies like Monsanto and Cargill that are causing this.

    Everything above is an outright lie.

    (Not to mention bad science post ergo hoc propter hoc is not a valid argument to draw conclusions on, as it is necessarily incomplete and therefore flawed.)

    Celiac was not diagnosed because medical universities didn't teach about it, so doctors encountering it were essentially ignorant of the disease.

  • Re:double standard (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ChipMonk ( 711367 ) on Saturday August 07, 2010 @04:26PM (#33175506) Journal

    The percentage of people who are harmed by arsenic (100) vs. the percentage of people who are harmed by gluten (small).

    For pure arsenic, that's true. It still has its uses in medicine, such as oncology where it works better than iodine for locating tumors.

    Oh, and have you eaten fish lately? You probably consumed a milligram of arsenic. But, since you're reading this, I'll assume you're still alive and well.

  • Re:double standard (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ziwcam ( 766621 ) on Saturday August 07, 2010 @04:28PM (#33175516)
    Does capsaicin kill you? In order for something to be a poison, the LD50 must be a small enough dose that a reasonable person could accidentally, or intentionally, consume it in a reasonable period of time. "a substance that, when introduced into or absorbed by a living organism, causes death or injury, esp. one that kills by rapid action even in a small quantity" lactose and capsaicin don't fall under that category.
  • by mrjb ( 547783 ) on Saturday August 07, 2010 @04:42PM (#33175588)

    wheat flour is now 13 to 23% gluten .

    [citation needed]. Gluten is wheat protein, right? When I buy flour, the protein content is stated and typically ranges from roughly 10-12% (12% being the "strong", high-protein variety, such as this flour [sainsburys.co.uk]). If you're going to claim twice the protein content in wheat flour, please back those claims up with evidence.

  • Gluten (Score:4, Insightful)

    by phorm ( 591458 ) on Saturday August 07, 2010 @05:04PM (#33175698) Journal

    Yes, as mentioned, arsenic is a poison because it's deadly to pretty much everyone (though supposedly you can build a tolerance), and additionally it's not exactly common in the stuff we eat (except where we've poisoning land with heavy metal from discarded electronics).

    Gluten, on the other hand, is in pretty much f***'ing everything. Preservatives in canned food, wheat-products, tons of stuff. It also has this tendency to follow family-lines. However, since the full tests usually involve fun things like biopsies, a *lot* of people don't know they have it. However, the numbers of those with gluten-intolerance isn't as small as one might think.

    Maybe it's just IMHO, but I think that trying to eliminate a condition which causes a smaller group of people to not be able to eat 80% of the food out there, vs one where it's just "don't eat poison", might not be such a bad thing. Of course the GP is probably a troll, but a lot of people don't seem to realize how serious celiac'ism is.

  • Re:People Forget (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DrXym ( 126579 ) on Saturday August 07, 2010 @05:36PM (#33175930)
    Utter bullshit. Coeliacs must avoid "ancient" varieties of wheat such as spelt as much as modern varieties. It has nothing to do with GM foods. If anything GM holds the best hope for a cure by producing a strain of wheat whose gluten protein is modified sufficiently that it doesn't trigger an autoimmune reaction.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 07, 2010 @06:21PM (#33176242)

    I saw this stat somewhere but I can't cite it unfortunately. But more precisely, it's 1 out of every 117 caucasian - it's quite a lot, but most people don't get tested or only experience the symptoms after years of gut damage in their middle-age.

  • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Saturday August 07, 2010 @08:51PM (#33177168) Homepage Journal

    Age of first exposure. From Wikipedia:

    A 2005 prospective and observational study found that timing of the exposure to gluten in childhood was an important risk modifier. People exposed to wheat, barley, or rye before the gut barrier has fully developed (within the first three months after birth) had five times the risk of developing coeliac disease relative to those exposed at four to six months after birth. Those exposed even later than six months after birth were found to have only a slightly increased risk relative to those exposed at four to six months after birth.

    Women don't breast feed their kids long enough. They put them on formula a week out of the womb, then try to get them to eat solid foods as soon as they can because breast feeding and formula are a hassle. The result is a huge increase in food allergies.

  • Re:double standard (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Kilrah_il ( 1692978 ) on Saturday August 07, 2010 @08:58PM (#33177204)

    It's like what is discussed later on - arsenic kills you because of direct effect [wikipedia.org] of arsenic on the body. OTOH, gluten does nothing to the body, It is the body's reaction to the substance (AKA hypersensitivity reaction; AKA autoimmune disease) that causes the disease. So arsenic directly causes damage -> poison. The body reacts aberrantly to a substance and cause an immune reaction against it -> disease.

  • Re:double standard (Score:4, Insightful)

    by x2A ( 858210 ) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @05:32AM (#33179064)

    An alergy is simply something that causes you little to no direct threat (it doesn't destroy tissue or organs or block neural pathways etc) BUT your body misrecognises it as something that does, and triggers for example an immuno-response like closing your airways to stop the threat. The problem is the response, not the substance.

    Things aren't "a poison" or "not a poison", things are "poisonous" at different amounts... some things are more "poisonous" than other things. I don't think there has to be a line.

  • Re:Gluten (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 08, 2010 @06:39AM (#33179228)

    I was reading an article in Scientific American a while back that found that during WW II Nordic countries (where gluten intolerance and celiac's disease appears to be more prevalent) had a large drop in infant mortality rates that corresponded to a shortage of wheat which caused the countries to switch to rice and other grain substitutes so it is just not a cumulative effect over your life.

    The up side to all of this is that it is providing scientist with a very easy to study auto-immune disease where the trigger is clearly understood so the full path of the disease can be found. If I remember correctly it is similar to arthritis in the bodies response it could lead to better understanding of a whole host of diseases and hopefully cures for those diseases.

  • Re:Gluten (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mpeskett ( 1221084 ) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @12:05PM (#33180682)

    Given that people are fairly unlikely to actually die/not reproduce because of a gluten intolerance, the pressure exerted will be small, but even if the rate of reproduction is only a little under the norm in sufferers then (over a sufficient span of time) it'll exert a selective pressure.

    That 'sufficient' span of time might well be quite a lot longer than what has already passed though, in which case we wouldn't expect to be seeing the effects yet.

  • by dogsbreath ( 730413 ) on Sunday August 08, 2010 @01:10PM (#33181136)

    There is some differentiation here as to gluten reactions. Celiac as described in the lit is an auto-immune reaction which causes damage to the lining of the gut. There are some other indications that there is, for some people, a lack of ability for the gut to properly break down gluten before it enters the blood stream. Theory goes that the gut allows the gluten fragments to enter the bloodstream where they act like a toxin. Other proteins in this category are casein and soy.

    People with gluten sensitivities just get glommed together as celiac even though there may different underlying causes.

    Another confounding factor is gut ecology with some more theory and anecdotal support for yeast colonization causing a number of negative effects.

    Unfortunately, there is not much incentive for drug-company funded research to get involved. No money in it. All these stories, theories, factors vectoring in on the gut and digestive processes as fundamental to some of the most puzzling and difficult to treat diseases and syndromes yet the research being done is limited. No obvious profit outcome if the treatment is not eating gluten or taking a daily dose of a cheap drug like nystatin.

    A really tangled knot: hard to study either directly or indirectly, and there are a lot of individual factors (apparently).

    Finally: at least anecdotally (and there are a LOT of stories supporting this), celiac/leaky gut seems to be a factor for a large number of people in the autistic spectrum (Asperger's, Tourette's, etc etc). So, if you have an autistic child, at least trial removel of gluten, casein and soy from the diet. Kicker is that even if a celiac test comes up negative, removal of gluten and the others from the diet may show a very positive effect.

Perfection is acheived only on the point of collapse. - C. N. Parkinson