What's New in Celiac Disease Research? A HealthCentral Explainer

Cutting out gluten, which is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, means cutting out bread, crackers and many everyday items that you may not expect.

This can be very challenging for people with celiac disease, as gluten causes inflammation and damage to the small intestine, and can interfere with the absorption of nutrients. Currently, a gluten-free diet is the only treatment. However, new research suggests there are some new possibilities on the horizon.

What are possible future treatments for celiac

Researchers are one step closer to developing a pill that would make it possible for people with celiac to eat gluten products. It would work similar to the lactose pill that people with lactose intolerance take when they are about to eat a dairy product.

Enzymes in the stomach break down gluten into peptides, which for most people are harmless. For people with celiac, those peptides trigger an autoimmune response and painful symptoms in the digestive tract. The researchers took a naturally occurring enzyme and modified it in the lab. This enzyme is able to break down more than 95 percent of the gluten peptides, which could allow people with celiac to consume gluten products again.

Another study from January 2011 looked at hydrolyzed wheat flour as an alternative to regular flour, and found that it was not toxic to people with celiac disease. Researchers fermented wheat flour with sourdough lactobacilli and fungal proteases, which decreases the concentration of gluten in the dough.

For the study, researchers evaluated 16 patients with celiac disease, who had been on a gluten-free diet for at least five years. Two of the six were asked to eat regular flour baked goods. These patients experienced the typical symptoms of celiac, such as abdominal pain and diarrhea. Another group ate partially hydrolyzed flour baked goods, and though they had no symptoms, they did develop intestinal issues that prevented them from absorbing nutrients. The last group was given fully hydrolyzed baked goods and had no issues. Researchers state that using the adapted biotechnology of hydrolysis could allow those with celiac to eat certain baked goods.

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A recent study has linked repeated infections early in life to an increased risk for celiac disease. The Swedish study looked at the health history of children diagnosed with celiac disease compared with children who were not. Researchers found that having three or more infections increased the child’s risk of celiac by 50 percent, and gastroenteritis on its own increased the risk by 80 percent.

The highest risk was seen in children who had several infections before six months of age, and who also ate large amounts of gluten, soon after gluten was introduced to their diet and also if breastfeeding had stopped before introducing the gluten. Researchers say that this highlights the importance of breastfeeding in reducing the risk of celiac disease.

How many people in the U.S. have celiac disease?

A study that was published in August 2012 found that 1.8 million people in the U.S. suffer from celiac disease, but 1.4 million are unaware they even have it. The study also found that another 1.6 million people in the U.S. are on a gluten-free diet without even being diagnosed with the disease.Researchers combined positive blood tests for celiac with a population sample survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They found that celiac disease is much more common in Caucasians, and is comparable to the rate in several European countries.

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Another study published in July 2012 study found that under-performance of small bowel biopsy during endoscopy could be a major reason why celiac disease is underdiagnosed in the United States. Researchers looked at data between 2004-2009 of patients undergoing an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy for weight loss, iron deficiency, anemia or diarrhea – symptoms that could be related to celiac disease.

They found that doctors did a small bowel biopsy in only 43 percent of the more than 13,000 patients that had an endoscopy during that time period. In addition, men were less likely to have a biopsy done than women, as well as older patients, African-Americans and Hispanics. Researchers say this could explain the trend of Caucasian women being diagnosed with celiac more often than others.


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