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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 GrumblyStuff ( 870046 ) on Saturday August 07, 2010 @02:45PM (#33174934)

    I've always wondered what was the deal with food allergies. I say peanut allergies because it often provokes such an insane reaction. Is it genetic and those genes were always around but we never made the connection between food and symptons or is it something that developed as we changed or our environment changed?

    There's other examples of our change of habitats. Heartburn/gastic reflux/stomach cancer is one I remember just off the top of my head.

  • Gluten free fad (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CaptBubba ( 696284 ) on Saturday August 07, 2010 @02:50PM (#33174948)

    In addition to allowing gluten to be made more tolerable to those with Celiac disease, I wonder if the discovery of the proteins responsible will lead to a quick and easy test for immune reaction. Something similar to the TB skin test would be great.

    A quick, easy to interpret, cheap test may serve to stem the tide of people self-diagnosing as gluten intolerant. I guess as fads go this one is fairly innocuous, with the only real downside being slightly higher prices to subsidize the "gluten free" versions of foods on menus at restaurants. Of course some sites promote it as a cure for all diseases, but that's always the case with any diet. It must be a godsend to real Celiac sufferers though. All of a sudden the gluten-free products they can eat are much more accessible.

  • Re:double standard (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mangu ( 126918 ) on Saturday August 07, 2010 @02:58PM (#33174992)

    Who gets to decide whether you're the problem, or the substance is?

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

  • by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Saturday August 07, 2010 @03:19PM (#33175102) Homepage
    N, it's not so 'simple'. Although there is a tendency towards fewer environmental allergies in people exposed to a larger mix of allergens ('dirt and stuff') it's by no means a binary thing. Allergic reactions are complex and multifactorial. I don't think the driving force behind allergic responses is a Darwinian selection sort of thing (remember, not EVERYTHING is a selection factor). It may well be that the inherent complexity of the challenge - response systems in the immune system leads to 'problems'. Although the immune system is a hugely functional piece of kit (try living without one for a while) it is also responsible for many human diseases when it goes out of whack.

    So let your kids play out in the back with the horses and hay but don't be surprised if they get celiac disease. That's apples and oranges. Or Yugos and Hummers. (Added to preempt the inevitable request for an automotive analogy.)
  • by FatdogHaiku ( 978357 ) on Saturday August 07, 2010 @03:25PM (#33175154)
    You can acquire an allergy via exposure. A good example is powdered latex gloves. The powder, usually corn starch, picks up small amounts of latex protein and rubs it into the pores of your skin. The powder can also get into the air and carry latex into the lungs. As exposure continues, the risk of having a problem rises. This is a large issue for health care workers, and many of them are switching to non-powdered vinyl gloves. ANYONE can get a reaction if they get enough exposure, but it may take 20 years for some people to see an effect. Other people do have a predisposition to develop food or other allergies, there is more information available here. []
  • Re:Gluten free fad (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 07, 2010 @03:37PM (#33175228)

    Gluten free diets for (most) people with Celiac are indeed one of the greatest things in life. Before I was diagnosed(which took *forever* due to an atypical presentation and under-awareness of it) I was sick all day, every day, no exceptions... I started being able to attend school again(I almost dropped out of HS because of it) within a month of going gluten free, it was amazing.

    As for the "slightly higher prices", in my experience, you really dont have to buy that many specialty ingredients, if you take some time to cook yourself. Wheat pasta can be switched out with corn, rice, quinoa, and other alternate types, flour tortillas for corn, cool ranch doritos instead of nacho cheese doritos... simple stuff. =) Thankfully a lot of manufacturers have been stepping up a bit lately and switching products to machinery that will keep an otherwise safe product safe, chex are an example of this...

  • by eclectro ( 227083 ) on Saturday August 07, 2010 @03:37PM (#33175232)

    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.

    It's still sub-clinical. 97% of Celiacs are going undiagnosed and leading lives of increasing misery because gluten is in e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

    As you so well pointed out, wheat is being used increasingly in heavily processed food because they have have hybridized the wheat kernel so much that they kernels are large and stuffed with gluten and is incredibly cheap to produce. But there is no reason that wheat has to be used other than it helps in making processed foods. The fact is there are other starch sources that easily could take the place of wheat. The fact is, humans are not dependent physiologically on the wheat kernel for anything.

  • by beaker8000 ( 1815376 ) on Saturday August 07, 2010 @03:42PM (#33175260)
    What I'm trying to point out is that if you have celiac and you eat gluten nothing may happen. The symptoms are long term. You have celiac and eat gluten for years your bones lose strength and you break your leg playing soccer. The cause and effect are hard to put together (hence leading to under-diagnosis). This is very different from hay fever where pollen is high and you get a runny nose or whatnot.
  • Re:People Forget (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 07, 2010 @04:43PM (#33175590)

    This is something I would normally agree with but it is actually over 4 times more common today than just 50 years ago. This is based on comparing the antibodies in blood samples from servicemen in the 1950's compared with today.

  • Re:People Forget (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 07, 2010 @06:59PM (#33176474)

    Coeliacs have always been around but, one of the reasons why it is a lot more prevalent now is that, since a couple of centuries ago, the type of wheat that is predominant in our diet contains a lot more gluten than before, which probably caused a sharp increase in the number of people who reacted to it.

    If you think about it, it makes sense that this wheat become so popular; the gluten content in the foods seems to be closely related to the texture. Try a gluten-free bread and you'll notice that the texture is a lot more grainy and the bread crumbles into tiny bits far too easily.

    Of course, it is way easier to detect now that we have genetic and antibody checks and endoscopies. If you check the list of symptoms, it is almost impossible to differentiate from most almost any other digestive problem. That and the fact that it seems to cause other major illnesses as side effects (schizophrenia! cancer!) probably meant that doctors focused on curing these major issues and not the underlying cause.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 07, 2010 @07:24PM (#33176638)

    I have Celiac's disease and I'd like to comment on wheat substitutes as I have first-hand experience with many. I will say up front, there really is no substitute for wheat. The combination of taste and texture cannot be matched at any cost. The substitution used depends on many factors, and the alternatives may involve adding 4-5 ingredients to replace the wheat.

    Gluten is what gives wheat it's spongy/elastic texture. If you tried to make bread from rice or potatoes, it will crumble because these starches lack gluten. Any potato or rice bread you buy in the store or bake will invariably include a flour containing gluten(except those specifically designed to be gluten-free). There are really only two options here:
    * Xanthan gum. This is a replacement protein used widely in gluten-free products. It is not cheap nor does it have any flavor.
    * Guar gum. Similar to Xanthan but slightly cheaper and is a laxative.

    Wheat has a certain taste. There is *NO* substitute that compares here as one cannot get wheat without gluten. The appropriate substitution here depends on the application.
    * A common use for wheat flour is dusting so the product doesn't stick. There really isn't anything cheaper then wheat for this application but rice flour is as effective and has a very weak flavor.
    * Breads can use a mix of flours based on tapioca, rice, potato or beans. All of these do not taste like wheat. Beans are a laxative and much more expensive. White rice and potato flour are not as nutritious.

    Some gluten-containing starches have desired chemical properties.
    * Almost all beer is made from barley or wheat and therefore contains gluten.

    Wheat has a good shelf-life.
    * Anything potato or rice based baked good must be refrigerated and even then only lasts about half as long.
    * All the aforementioned flours need to be stored refrigerated whereas wheat flour does not.

  • Re:Gluten (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Saturday August 07, 2010 @08:46PM (#33177134) Homepage Journal

    In the case of gluten allergies, two reasons:

    • The effect is cumulative and tends not to cause serious problems until well after the start of breeding age.
    • It seldom would be bad enough to kill you anyway.

    Thus, it is neither a significant positive nor negative evolutionary pressure, so the percentage of expression should rise and fall almost randomly through history.

    If you want to know the actual reason for the increase in gluten and peanut allergies lately, we have a pretty good idea:

    • The human body has historically not consumed such large quantities of wheat as we do today, thanks in part to better transportation and storage.
    • In countries that have historically consumed large amounts of wheat (e.g. parts of Europe that consume wheat-based pastas), the varieties of wheat grown in those areas contain significantly less gluten than the red wheat that is popular in the United States (which I think was originally indigenous to Russia).
    • Modern society has gotten so busy that few women breast feed infants as long as they should. As a result, children are exposed to real foods at an earlier time than ever before in the history of the human race. There is evidence that children exposed to gluten, peanuts, etc. too early in life are significantly more likely to develop an allergy to them.

    Nothing evolutionary about it. It's predominantly societal and geographical.

  • by rs79 ( 71822 ) <> on Saturday August 07, 2010 @09:28PM (#33177324) Homepage

    "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."

    There are some far reaching implications of this. Nerotransmitters are made in the gut, some of these (ie, GABA) regulate mood. If the gut is compromised enough so few are made that mental problems can be the result. Some parents of autistic children have found that withholding gluten can cause a cessation of symptoms. You may also notice too that people that you know with mental problems often gave gut problems or eat a lot of sugar (which promotes candida growth which compromises the villi in the gut thus again preventing absorption of nutrients).

    One of the standard nutritional medicine protocols is to stop sugar, push yourt to repopulate the gut and take large doses of supplements so the inefficient gut actually absorbs enough to actually do the body some good.

    The lack of, say B3 can induce schizophrenia. google "pellagra"; this is the reason all white flour is enriched - to prevent insanity.

    Abram Hoffer asserted that 80% of schizophrenics could be cured with vitamins and diet based on his empirical observations over 50 years.

  • by jamesh ( 87723 ) on Saturday August 07, 2010 @11:50PM (#33177938)

    In Australia the labeling is heaps better than it used to be so it's actually not that hard to avoid gluten here compared to 5 years ago. And maybe because of the labeling there are products that you'd think would have wheat or other gluten grains in it but don't, presumably just to expand their market a little bit - sticking 'gluten free' on the front of the packaging makes it an easy choice. But yeah, any substitute for gluten in a product that depends on it's properties is a poor substitute.

    Wheat flour is incredibly versatile, from the same basic product you can make all sorts of things with very little modification except maybe that a finer flour is better for bread. With gluten free flours you need to pick a flour based on what you are making, and while the various gums can help a bit, any bread you make is basically just a savoury cake that you really need to eat straight away after you cook it or it goes stale. Any gluten free bread you buy at the supermarket probably is packed full of preservatives as it's normally a fairly slow moving line and is very expensive.

    I have no problems with my gluten but one of my kids has Coeliac disease and while my wife and another kid have been tested (blood test and biopsy) and come back negative, they find they feel much better by excluding wheat (and possibly other gluten-containing grains too but with one Coeliac in the family it doesn't come up). The excluding wheat thing appears to be fairly common too, even with a negative diagnosis of Coeliac disease, but we've found that once you excluded it you tend to become even more sensitive to it which is a problem if you ever want to get a biopsy done as it means you need to have wheat again for a bit...

  • Re:Gluten (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ukyoCE ( 106879 ) on Monday August 09, 2010 @10:16AM (#33188314) Journal

    There is evidence that children exposed to gluten, peanuts, etc. too early in life are significantly more likely to develop an allergy to them.

    I've been hearing the opposite recently, that they recommend exposing children to peanuts, shellfish, etc. at a young age, and even think the delay in exposure may be part of the cause for increase in allergies.

    I don't personally have a strong feeling either way, just wanted to point out that early exposure to peanuts and other potential allergens is apparently no longer considered dangerous. Although I think all would agree it's prudent to closely supervise first exposures to these in case of allergies.

In seeking the unattainable, simplicity only gets in the way. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982