Is there a link between gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, and autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes?
Worldwide, but especially in the developed world, the incidence of autoimmune diseases are on the rise. One of these diseases is coeliac disease (or gluten-sensitivity enteropathy) – an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system overreacts by producing antibodies when you eat gluten.
It’s now also recognised that some people are particularly sensitive to gluten. This condition, called non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, isn’t yet completely understood. However, researchers know for a fact that it isn’t an autoimmune disease.
There is, therefore, a clear link between gluten and autoimmune disease in the sense that people with coeliac disease, an autoimmune disease, should avoid the protein found in wheat, barley and rye at all costs. But what, you may wonder, is the link between gluten, coeliac disease, and other autoimmune diseases?
Some autoimmune disorders genetically linked
Medical experts know that people with coeliac disease are at increased risk for certain other autoimmune diseases – and, the later the age of diagnosis, the greater the risk.
The most common autoimmune disorder that’s genetically linked to coeliac disease is type 1 diabetes, with the common denominators in both conditions being the HLA DQ2 and HLA DQ8 genes. Developing one of these diseases means there’s a greater risk that you’ll develop one of the others, too.
Coeliac disease is also more common in people with rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis (MS), Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Addison disease, autoimmune hepatitis and a few other disorders.
But while there certainly is a genetic link between diagnosed coeliac disease and other autoimmune disorders, it isn’t yet clear whether a diet devoid of gluten can help people with autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis or MS to manage their conditions better.
It’s furthermore important to realise that eating gluten is unlikely to set the coeliac disease process in motion. If you’re genetically susceptible to coeliac disease, a combination of factors could play a role in developing the disease. These may include a traumatic event, stress, exposure to certain toxins, or becoming infected with a virus.
Good to know
If you believe that you may have coeliac disease or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, it’s important not to self-diagnose. Avoiding gluten without good reason could mean that you’re cutting out good-for-you, heart-healthy nutrients.
Speak to your doctor about getting a proper diagnosis. If you need to make changes to your diet, it’s best to consult with a registered dietitian.
By Carine Visagie
The Content on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.