What really causes Celiac disease?

A fascinating article in the NY Times delves into a number of environmental factors that are likely playing a role in the increasing incidence of celiac disease. Here’s the link (thanks to Kayla Lewis for this reference):

Some excerpts:
Scientists are pursuing some intriguing possibilities. One is that breast-feeding may protect against the disease. Another is that we have neglected the teeming ecosystem of microbes in the gut — bacteria that may determine whether the immune system treats gluten as food or as a deadly invader.Celiac disease is generally considered an autoimmune disorder. The name celiac derives from the Greek word for “hollow,” as in bowels. Gluten proteins in wheat, barley and rye prompt the body to turn on itself and attack the small intestine. Complications range from diarrhea and anemia to osteoporosis and, in extreme cases, lymphoma. Some important exceptions notwithstanding, the prevalence of celiac disease is estimated to range between 0.6 and 1 percent of the world’s population….Yet the more scientists study celiac disease, the more some crucial component appears in need of identification. Roughly 30 percent of people with European ancestry carry predisposing genes, for example. Yet more than 95 percent of the carriers tolerate gluten just fine. So while these genes (plus gluten) are necessary to produce the disease, they’re evidently insufficient to cause it….

A recent study, which analyzed blood serum from more than 3,500 Americans who were followed since 1974, suggested that such a trigger could strike adults at any time. By 1989, the prevalence of celiac disease in this cohort had doubled.

“You’re talking about an autoimmune disease in which we thought we had all the dots connected,” says Alessio Fasano, head of the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at the Massachusetts General Hospital for Children in Boston, and the senior author of the study. “Then we start to accumulate evidence that there was something else.”

Identifying that “something else” has gained some urgency. In the United States, improved diagnosis doesn’t seem to explain the rising prevalence. Scientists use the presence of certain self-directed antibodies to predict celiac disease. They have analyzed serum stored since the mid-20th century and compared it to serum from Americans today. Today’s serum is more than four times as likely to carry those antibodies…

your microbes change you, but your genes also shape your microbes — as do environment, breast milk, diet and antibiotics, among many other factors.

Such complexity both confounds notions of one-way causality and suggests different paths to the same disease. “You have the same endpoint,” Dr. Jabri says, “but how you get there may be variable.”…

In a far-flung corner of Europe, people develop celiac disease and other autoimmune diseases as infrequently as Americans and Finns did a half-century ago. The same genes exposed to the same quantity of gluten do not, in that environment, produce the same frequency of disease.

“We could probably prevent celiac disease if we just give the same environment to the Finnish children as they have in Karelia,” says Dr. Hyoty. “But there’s no way to do it now, except to move the babies there.”

Author of NY Times article:

Moises Velasquez-Manoff.  Also, he is the author of “An Epidemic of Absence: A New Way of Understanding Allergies and Autoimmune Diseases.”

Related blog links:

3 thoughts on “What really causes Celiac disease?

  1. Pingback: “Gluten-Related Disorders” (Part 1) | gutsandgrowth

  2. Pingback: Celiac Disease Risk -TEDDY Study | gutsandgrowth

  3. Pingback: How to Protect Children From Celiac Disease | gutsandgrowth

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