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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.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by JamesP ( 688957 )

      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 StWaldo ( 574433 ) on Saturday August 07, 2010 @03:12PM (#33175060) Homepage
        As a celiac'er myself, I can say that's not true. I ate dirt, played in the mud, my mom was not overprotective, and I still got critical anemia from damage to my gut from gluten. Also, as noted below, celiac/gluten intolerance is not an allergy - it's an autoimmune disorder.
      • 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 JamesP ( 688957 )

          You're right

          Anyway, celiac disease is not an allergy (and it starts at a very early age), so yeah, eating dirt probably won't make it better...

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by dogsbreath ( 730413 )

            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 sensitiv

      • That is, the lack of pseudo-symbiotic hookworm infections?

      • by julesh ( 229690 )

        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

        It's a working theory, and possibly a good one, that exposure to infections prevents allergies developing. But the evidence is a long way from conclusive. The most recent review I can find of the evidence (published in 2007) concluded that the studies to that date were inconclusive. So, you might be right, but even if you are the effect you have on the chance of developing a

      • by MobyDisk ( 75490 ) *

        Over cleanliness does not lead to gluten or peanut allergies. They are genetic. In the case of peanut allergies, you have them from day one. That is why they tell you never give peanuts to children under a year - it's instant death if they have the allergy.

      • by DrSkwid ( 118965 )

        > The term coeliac derives from the Greek (koiliaks, "abdominal"), and was introduced in the 19th century in a translation of what is generally regarded as an ancient Greek description of the disease by Aretaeus of Cappadocia. []

        Yeah, those 1st C Greeks and their goddamn germ fetish

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      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

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by eclectro ( 227083 )

        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 sourc

        • 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: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by jamesh ( 87723 )

            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 i

            • by deniable ( 76198 )
              In Australia they still sell corn flour made from wheat. It's a technical term for fine flour. At least some brands have caught on and advertise themselves as 'corn flour made from corn.' And then there's the ever present 'Anti Caking Agent.' You're right, things are getting better, but it's taking time.
              • by jamesh ( 87723 )

                'corn flour made from corn.'

                All the wheat based cornflour i've seen recently is fairly clearly branded as 'wheaten cornflour'. We probably don't get such a wide brand selection in central Victoria though.

                The supermarket around the corner is reasonably expensive but has a huge range of gf foods for a supermarket its size (which are obviously more expensive again).

          • I have Celiac's disease

            I have Cecilia's disease. It's breaking my heart. It's shaking my confidence daily.

            Not all diseases are named after people, you know.

      • 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 []). If you're going to claim twice the protein content in wheat flour, please back those claims up with evidence.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by rs79 ( 71822 )

        "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 withholdi

        • by samkass ( 174571 )

          Another one is B12. That can lead to depression and anxiety, among other things, and is actually fairly hard for the gut to absorb. (Thus it's fairly easy to damage/overload it enough to create a deficiency.) The liver normally stores huge amounts of B12 relative to the body's needs, though, so symptoms may not show up for months or years.

        • Nerotransmitters ?

          Is that where red matter comes from ?

        • by deniable ( 76198 )
          Yogurt, or specifically the AB cultures, are important. Garlic is also helpful against candida. There's supposedly a link between gluten and lactose problems and candida as well. Throw all of these together unregulated and you have a mess.
    • 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. []
      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        And yet, exposure can also damp down and finally eliminate an allergy. We seem to be missing something here...

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by dgatwood ( 11270 )

          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 r

          • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

            Oh, forgot to link to the relevant article [].

          • Although you are right that prolonged breast-feeding is associated with a lower incidence of Celiac, it is important to note that most infant formulas do not contain Gluten [].

            • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

              I didn't say that they did. I didn't even imply that. Longer breast feeding has two benefits. First, it boosts the child's immune system. Second, it is a good indicator for how late the child will begin consuming solid food, for two reasons:

              • There is a tendency to stop breast feeding when teeth come in (correlative, but not causative).
              • Kids with teeth are more likely to eat a portion of solid foods that their parents consume.

              Admittedly, that's more correlative, not causative; the causative factor is th

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      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

    • by sjames ( 1099 )

      It's a combination of things including really bad medical advice from "experts", people thinking their floors need to be suitable for operating on and a statistically small number of genuine immune abnormalities.

      For example, pregnant women, particularly in the UK, were advised to avoid peanuts in case the baby turns out to be allergic (who knows why, I've never heard of that causing a problem). It turns out that lack of peanut protean exposure in-utero results in MORE peanut allergies and more serious peanu

    • by DrXym ( 126579 )
      Coeliac disease generally isn't regarded in the same sense as a peanut allergy. It's an immune response which causes the body to attack itself. Gluten intolerance won't kill you if you ingest gluten by accident although doing so can have very unpleasant long and short term effects.

      My kids have it and believe me it's a huge disruption. If they eat gluten by accident it turns them as white as a sheet and there is a good chance they'll puke their guts up for a day. The only known "cure" to coeliac disease is

      • by jamesh ( 87723 )

        Move to Australia. The ingredient labeling over here seems to have improved incredibly in the last 5 years or so. It's very rare we'll find a product that doesn't list any wheat or other gluten containing grain that ends up actually containing it.

        Eating out and take-away foods are still a bit of a problem. Even for eateries that claim to have a gluten-free product line it's so easy to accidentally contaminate the product with a small amount of gluten that it just seems to be not worth it, and most workers j

        • by DrXym ( 126579 )
          Labelling is hugely variable in the EU. Companies are legally obliged to list certain ingredients derived from wheat, barley, rye but some bury the info so deep you can barely see it. Others might not contain anything dodgy but won't say "gluten free". Others are very helpful and provide very clear allergen advice. Legislation is improving things but I think most allergen / coeliac sufferers would like EU to require clear and concise advice in a consistent layout to make it easy to see at a glance.

          The cont

          • Others might not contain anything dodgy but won't say "gluten free".

            Honest question. Do you mean something that would _typically_ contain gluten, or not? If not, why should it list gluten free?

            I can't remember the specific examples, but there have been cases in the U.S. of products saying "fat free" or "cholesterol free" on the package, when such products would never contain that. I think they got in minor trouble with the FDA over labelling laws. (If someone has specific examples, great.)

        • by deniable ( 76198 )
          You still have to know the code phrases. Anti-caking agent is the biggest one I can think of right now. McDonalds fries are a problem because of cross contamination after the frier. Try ordering them without salt. A lot of them now don't blink if you order a burger without the bun, so there is some improvement. The good ones will do up a nice looking dish on a tray. Mexican is safest if you stay with the corn tortillas. Have you looked at Nandos? Our local ones actually have dairy and gluten allergy informa
    • by jamesh ( 87723 )

      From what I understand there is a very high incidence of peanut allergies downwind from where peanuts are grown, and the same things tend to occur with other allergens too. It's only in the last few hundred years that crops like that are grown on the scale they are today and all in one place etc.

      Btw, Coeliac Disease isn't an allergy like a peanut allergy. You can get very sick from having gluten (my daughter will be quite unwell within an hour from even the tiniest bit) but it's a completely different respo

  • 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: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Kazymyr ( 190114 )

      There already are tests for celiac disease that are fairly quick and easy to interpret. it's the same problem as with all the other tests though: someone has to think of doing it. And BTW, the TB skin test you're referring to is in fact a lot more complex to interpret than you think.

      Will this discovery lead to a change in the way we're approaching celiac disease? Most likely yes, however I wouldn't hold my breath. Check back in another 5, perhaps even 10 years and we'll see what(if anything) comes out of it

    • In addition to allowing gluten to be made more tolerable to those with Celiac disease,

      Why should people be forced into eating gluten? When the wheat kernel is eaten, the entirety of the kernel is destroyed. Gluten in the wheat kernel could be an adaptation to prevent animals from eating the seed in the first place.

      Even though this researcher found the specific peptides that cause problems for Celiacs, the fact is nobody entirely digests the gluten protein in bread. The only thing nutritional about bread is that it is a starchy carbohydrate and it might have a small amount of fiber. Otherwise

      • I would check out this comment [] regarding the benefits and unique characteristics of Gluten.

    • to identify specific markers which then if necessary can be confirmed by samples taken from the digestive tract.

      I recently went through a baterial infection which after treatment with Flagyl (sp) cleared the wrong types from my system. Before then two doctors were sure I had celiac but blood tests cleared that off the table. If you test positive to the blood test they take samples from your system to confirm it. For most doctors the blood test is sufficient. In my case while it came back clear I had sim

    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      The naturopaths already have a cheap, quick test for gluten intolerance. A friend of mine described it as a machine that you're hooked up to that "measures your levels." It's really sensitive too - it seems to detect gluten intolerance in everyone it's used on.

  • Rather it is an auto-immune disorder, gluten causes the sufferer's own immune system to attack their small intestine. Aside from the immediate pain (a stomach ache for a day or two after eating even a tiny amount of gluten), it can result in deficiencies in various necessary substances, and can lead to an increased danger of cancer. My wife had stomach aches most of her life, she had grown accustomed to them, thinking they were normal. A few years back (she was 28), on someone's suggestion she got tested
    • by Kazymyr ( 190114 ) on Saturday August 07, 2010 @03:05PM (#33175034) Journal

      You are both right and wrong. It is an autoimmune disease, but it's triggered by an environmental factor. Actually quite a few reactions that are traditionally classified as "allergies" follow the same pattern. Serum sickness is another example. Most medication allergies 9true allergies, not adverse effects) are in the same category.

      • I think you got some of the terms confused. Let me sort it out.
        Autoimmune disease - a disease in which the body's immune system attacks its own tissues. Most autoimmune disease are cause/triggered by a variety of factors including genetic disposition and environmental factors (e.g. exposure to substances and viruses).
        Autoimmune disease are classified according to the basic Hypersensitivity reaction [] underlying them. You can read the Wikipedia article, but to summarize, there are 4 types (the article talks ab

    • by DrXym ( 126579 )
      My daughter was 14 months when she was hospitalised with a severe bacterial infection. She was very sick and doctors initially thought she was suffering from swine flu. After being pumped full of antibiotics and subjected to various tests over a weak she went home. Blood tests suggested she was coeliac and she had a follow on biopsy to confirm it. Doctors suspect she was severely weakened by the disease and this made it easier for the infection to take hold. Her brother also suffered various gastro problems
  • by beaker8000 ( 1815376 ) on Saturday August 07, 2010 @03:11PM (#33175056)
    First, this research is great. However I want to point out that celiac disease is not an allergy, it is an autoimmune disorder. Calling celiac an allergy makes people think if they have it they will break out into hives or their face will swell if they eat gluten. This contributes to most with celiac not knowing they have the disease. According to U Chicago's Celiac Disease Center, 97% of those with Celiac are undiagnosed ( Examples of symptoms of celiac are fatigue, mental disorders, abdominal pain, joint pain... a full list is here: [] Also about 1 in 133 americans have celiac, however 41% of adults and 60% of children are asymptomatic.
  • I had never even heard of this until a few weeks ago when i found out a friend had it.

    Cool news

  • 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.
    • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 )

      Gluten is a major component in several grains. Grain has formed a major portion of most humans' diet since the dawn of agriculture. It's not surprising you find gluten in almost everything.

    • Same situation for us, although it turns out some of my kids were temporarily gluten intolerant during a certain phase of development.

      We found that once you work out a GF menu, it's not really too bad. The main starch becomes rice rather than wheat, and for things like soy sauce people have generally worked out lists of GF brands that you can buy. Overall our menu mostly became more like an east Asian menu, which wasn't the end of the world.

      The tough part is when you want one foot in both worlds. For exa

  • There is a misperception that is being abused that the protein fragments which cause people to become sick are NOT the problem. This article goes on to further confuse the notion that gluten sick people need only de-sensitize themselves to the allergen in wheat, oat, barley or rye. The findings isolate gluten protein peptides as the culprit.

    The problem has been the fact that wheat is not a naturally occurring food. Wheat is a hybrid, the result of 8000 years ago in the Mesopotamia combining of a grain an

  • Fantastic work there, scientists. Hopefully they'll be able to determine if peanuts are what causes peanut allergies, though I dunno - seems like that would be a pretty big coincidence.

  • Given American Pharmaceutical Companies, if this discovery leads to anything, it will not be a cure. More likely they will develop a drug that will let people eat gluten as long as they keep buying a pill.

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