Very interesting article on understanding the ailments tied to gluten, from theblogs at the Wall Street Journal.
Researchers are making slow progress in understanding the numerous ailments that a growing number of people suffer after eating foods with gluten, a protein found in wheat.
As the Health Journal column reports, a group of 15 experts from seven countries took a step forward this week, proposing a new classification and diagnosing system to help doctors and patients figure out what’s a wheat allergy, what’s celiac disease and what falls under a new category of ills lumped together as “gluten sensitivity.”
Another international team aims to clear up the confusion caused by experts around the world using different terminology for gluten-related problems; celiac disease alone has been called sprue, gluten-sensitive enteropathy and gluten intolerance. Their consensus paper will be published soon in the journal Gut.
A lesser-known disorder is gluten ataxia, in which antibodies to gluten damage parts of the brain that control gait, speech and motor function. Researchers have long wondered whether antibodies to gluten could attack other parts of the brain as well, and some intriguing findings have emerged.
For instance, people with schizophrenia have a higher rate of the anti-gluten antibodies and gene variations associated with celiac disease than the general population. And some parents of autistic children say their symptoms improve, sometimes dramatically, on a gluten-free diet, though no link has been firmly established in lab studies.
Gluten disorders could play a role in dementia as well. In a 2006 study, physicians at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., identified 13 patients with celiac disease who started showing signs of cognitive decline at the same time gastrointestinal symptoms set in. Some improved and some didn’t on a gluten-free diet, and much more research is needed to explore the connection. But neurologists at the Mayo Clinic now routinely test for celiac disease in patients with early on-set dementia.
A more fundamental mystery is why gluten, a staple of most human diets since the dawn of agriculture 10,000 years ago, is creating more health problems now. Once considered rare, celiac disease is now believed to affect about 1% of the U.S. population, up fourfold over the last 50 years. “Has the staff of life become the stuff of illness for some?” asks Joseph Murray, a celiac expert at the Mayo Clinic.
Some experts suspect that genetic changes to raise the protein content of wheat may play a role, as could industrial baking procedures that shorten the time bread is exposed to yeast. Wheat also makes up a larger portion of human diets than in generations past, and wheat consumption is growing in Asia and the Middle East, along with gluten-related disorders. Still another theory holds that the bacteria that inhabit the human body may have evolved to be less hospitable to gluten over time.
Whatever the reason, says Alessio Fasano, director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Celiac Research, “our environment is changing faster than humans can adapt, and some people are paying the price.”
Article Courtesy: Dr. Stephen Wangen
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