Celiac disease is a serious genetic autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. Therefore, people with celiac disease must eat a gluten-free diet. The disease affects 1 in 100 people worldwide, and one in 133 people in the United States. Two and one-half million Americans are undiagnosed and are at risk for long-term health complications.
Gluten, the culprit, is a family of dietary proteins found in wheat, barley, rye, oat, and other grains. It is the protein that makes dough elastic and gives bread its chewy texture. It is naturally poorly digested, and therefore more likely to engage the immune system than other proteins, even in people without celiac disease.
In people with celiac disease, it damages the intestinal villi, which are very small finger-like projections found along the wall of the small intestine. When the villi are injured, the small intestine can’t properly absorb nutrients from food. So, again, people with celiac disease must avoid foods that contain gluten. Sometimes, they may feel isolated, as they must eat differently than others.
But guess what? There is a new trend in college dining halls. They’re offering tastier gluten-free foods to attract students without food restrictions so allergy sufferers won’t feel isolated. The following is from The New York Times: “Out with pizza, in with poke bowls. That’s the new culinary strategy at Kent State and Cornell University, which this school year rolled out the first certified gluten-free dining halls. An estimated 5 to 10 percent of college students have celiac disease or other gluten-related disorders, according to Dr. Alessio Fasano, director of the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment in Boston. For them, avoiding gluten—wheat, rye, barley and cross-contaminated oats—isn’t a fad diet but a medical necessity. Even a bread crumb in the communal cream cheese could wreak gastrointestinal havoc, causing symptoms that lead to missed classes and more. A 2016 survey by the New England Celiac Organization concluded that “college students with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity face overwhelming complications in their social and academic lives.”
And…. we have not only a new trend in college dining halls, but also new insight in what actually causes celiac disease. A new study (Reovirus infection triggers inflammatory responses to dietary antigens and development of celiac disease), published last week (April 7, 2017) in the journal Science, shows that Infection with reovirus, a common but otherwise harmless virus, can trigger the immune system to react to gluten, leading to the development of celiac disease. How? Usually
For the study, which was carried out in a mouse model, researchers used two different closely related but genetically different reovirus strains. They showed that genetic differences between viruses can change how they interact with the immune system. Both reovirus strains induced protective immunity and did not cause overt disease. However, one of the reovirus strains triggered an inflammatory immune response and the loss of oral tolerance to gluten, whereas the other strain did not.
Bana Jabri, the study senior author, said in a press release: “This study clearly shows that a virus that is not clinically symptomatic can still do bad things to the immune system and set the stage for an autoimmune disorder, and for celiac disease in particular. However, the specific virus and its genes, the interaction between the microbe and the host, and the health status of the host are all going to matter as well.”
The study also found that celiac disease patients produces much higher levels of antibodies against reoviruses than those without the disease. The celiac patients who had high levels of reovirus antibodies also had much higher levels of IRF1 gene expression, a transcriptional regulator that plays a key role in the loss of oral tolerance to gluten. This suggests that infection with a reovirus can leave a permanent mark on the immune system, a mark that sets the stage for a later autoimmune response to gluten.
in the United States, babies are usually weaned from breastfeeding and given their first solid foods—often containing gluten—around six months of age. Children with immature immune systems are more susceptible to viral infections at this stage, and for those genetically predisposed, the combination of an intestinal reovirus infection with the first exposure to gluten could create the right conditions for developing celiac disease.
“During the first year of life, the immune system is still maturing, so for a child with a particular genetic background, getting a particular virus at that time can leave a kind of scar that then has long term consequences,” Jabri said. “That’s why we believe that once we have more studies, we may want to think about whether children at high risk of developing celiac disease should be vaccinated.”