Patients Diagnosed in Childhood Might Evolve toward Latency on a Normal Diet 05/23/2007 - The results of a study recently published in the journal Gut indicate that some people who suffer from celiac disease might not need to remain on a gluten free diet for their entire lives, and that some celiac patients might be able to safely introduce gluten containing foods without suffering a relapse.

Previous Studies Showing Positive Response to Wheat Introduction in Patients with Celiac Disease are Promising, But Incomplete

Several studies have shown that some patients diagnosed with celiac disease in childhood were able to remain on a gluten-containing diet after gluten challenge without suffering a relapse. However, most of these studies included a small number of patients, or followed the patients for only a short period after gluten was reintroduced into their diets.

These previous studies also limited their evaluation largely to assessment of celiac disease serology and histology of duodenal biopsies, and did not attempt to identify what factors might predict the development of tolerance to gluten.

Determining Long-term Response to Gluten Consumption in Celiac Disease Patients

A research team made up of doctors Tamara Matysiak-Budnik (1), Georgia Malamut (1,2), Natacha Patey-Mariaud de Serre (3), Etienne Grosdidier (2), Sylvie Seguier (3), Nicole Brousse (3), Sophie Caillat-Zucman (4), Nadine Cerf-bensussan (1), Jacques Schmitz (5) and Christophe Cellier (1,2), set out to determine whether children diagnosed with celiac disease must follow a gluten free diet for life.

To determine the effects of reintroducing gluten into the diets of celiac patients, the research team set out to monitor the clinical and physical progress of adult celiac patients who had been diagnosed as children, who underwent a gluten challenge, and who were asymptomatic.

The study focused on a specific group of patients, all but two of whom were diagnosed as children and followed until adulthood in the Department of Pediatric Gastroenterology in Necker Hospital and thereafter at the Georges Pompidou European Hospital in Paris; after which, they were entered into a local register of adult celiac patients and were recruited for the study based on two criteria: celiac disease diagnosed in childhood; and adherence to a normal diet.

The patients in the study were from 18 to 65 years old, and had been diagnosed with celiac disease in childhood. The research team recorded data in the following categories: biological parameters of malabsorption; bone mineral density; clinical celiac status; gluten intake; HLA genotype; serological markers of celiac disease; as well as histological and immuno-histochemical parameters in duodenal biopsies.

Results Show 20% Long-term Latency in Celiac Patients who Eat Normal Diet

Of those studied, 61 patients had returned to a normal diet, and were asymptomatic. 48 showed various degrees of villous atrophy (silent celiac disease), and 13 had no detectable atrophy (latent celiac disease) on duodenal biopsies. Compared to those with silent celiac disease, patients with latent celiac disease showed markedly less osteopenia/osteoporosis [1/9 (11%) versus 23/33 (70%), p<0.001)], and lower TcR- + intraepithelial T cell counts (38±20 vs. 55±15, p<0.01).

Patients with latent celiac disease had a lower mean age at the time of their first gluten free diet compared to patients with silent celiac disease (14.4±5 vs 40.1±47 months, p<0.05).

Compared to the seven control patients on a long-term gluten free diet, the latent patients did not differ significantly, except for a higher frequency of celiac disease-specific serum antibodies. However, a follow-up found that two of the patients with latent celiac disease had suffered a clinical and histological relapse.

Results showed that of those patients who remained asymptomatic after the reintroduction of gluten, 20% showed long-term latency.

The study concludes that some patients with celiac disease may not need to remain on a life-long gluten free diet, and that some may indeed be able to safely reintroduce gluten into their diets with no adverse effects. However, the latency patients may experience may be transient, and therefore a regular follow-up is necessary. Also, patients with silent celiac disease should remain on a gluten free diet.

Participating hospitals:
(1) INSERM, U793, Faculté de Médecine René Descartes, IFR94, Paris, France.
(2) AP-HP, H&OCIRC;pital Européen Georges Pompidou, Department of Hepato-Gastroenterology,
Paris, France.
(3) AP-HP, H&OCIRC;pital Necker-Enfants Malades, Department of Pathology, Paris, France.
(4) INSERM, Equipe Avenir, Faculté de Médecine René Descartes, Paris, France.
(5) AP-HP, H&OCIRC;pital Necker-Enfants Malades, Department of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Paris, France.

Gut 2006;13(10).

Comments on this Study by Ron Hoggan

  • This is dressed up like a new finding, but it isn't. There are a number of studies that show similar findings. Part of that problem lies in the interpretation of the biopsies, and part of the problem arises out of failing to recognize the variable nature of the disease. It has long been known to wax and wane for reasons beyond our ken. Samuel Gee (1888) and Gibbons (1889) both reported the cyclic nature of their patients symptoms.
  • They cited a study to support the idea of a two year rule saying that relapse would usually occur within two years, yet Kuitunen P, Savilahti E, Verkasalo M., in Late mucosal relapse in a boy with coeliac disease and cows milk allergy. Acta Paediatr Scand. 1986 Mar;75(2):340-2. reported one patient who at 4.3 years on a normal diet showed normal villous architecture. It was not until a follow-up biopsy at more than 8 years of eating a gluten-containing diet that he showed villous atrophy.
  • These findings, along with all the other studies that have shown long delays in some patients before relapsing, argue strongly for Michael N. Marsh's position that we should concentrate on treating any immune system that is sensitized to gluten with a gluten-free diet. His rectal challenge is an excellent tool for identifying such sensitized immune systems. Dr. Fines fecal antibody test probably fits into the same category.
  • The underlying assumption is that the biopsy will identify all cases of intestinal lesion regardless of the possibility of patchy lesions that are well documented in the literature.
  • They deal with increased IEL counts as if they were a feature of latent celiac disease when that is not the case.
  • There are several other points on which this study falters. They admit that the latency can be transient. Unfortunately, they have not exchanged emails with people where they have returned to eating gluten and have developed an abdominal cancer. I exchanged emails with such a young man who blamed himself for having killed himself with his carelessness about his diet. How awful that was for him! Yet these authors seem to think it is quite acceptable for patients to indulge during their latency periods and only consider a diet if there is a relapse of intestinal lesion. welcomes your comments below (registration is NOT required).