Scand J Gastroenterol. 2005 Apr;40(4):437-43. 07/28/2005 - In an effort to determine whether gluten exposure in those with celiac disease can cause additional autoimmune diseases, Finnish researchers evaluated the frequency of autoimmune disorders in 703 adults and children with celiac disease, and compared them with 299 controls (normal duodenal histology). For each person in the study the researchers assessed the effect of age at the end of follow-up, age at diagnosis; actual gluten exposure time; and the gender and diagnostic delay time. They then determined autoimmune disease incidence figures that were expressed as a dependent variable via logistic regression analysis (per 10,000 person-years).

The researchers found that the celiac disease group had a significantly higher prevalence of additional autoimmune diseases that was not affected by exposure to gluten.

Additional Comments on this Study by Roy Jamron:

Autoimmune disease has a high prevalence in celiacs. The following study concludes that the duration of gluten exposure in celiacs is not a significant factor in the risk of developing autoimmune disease. One diagnosed late in life with celiac disease does not appear to be at greater risk for developing autoimmune disease. This seems counter-intuitive, but there may be a good explanation for this result.

Studies in the UK and Italy have demonstrated that the prevalence of celiac disease in young children is essentially the same as in adults, meaning celiac disease begins in infancy. Infancy is the critical time period for the development of the immune system. Gluten exposure and the onset of celiac disease symptoms early in life, therefore, have a much greater and more important impact on the immune system and its development than exposure to gluten later in life. Malabsorption during infancy and early childhood can also adversely affect the crucial function of the thymus, T cell production, and T cell repertoire. So the stage is set early in life rather than later for increased risk of autoimmune disease. The timing of gluten exposure in life seems to be more critical to autoimmune disease risk rather than the overall lifetime duration of gluten exposure. It is, therefore, extremely important to diagnose celiac disease and initiate a gluten-free diet as soon as possible during infancy and young childhood to lower the risk of autoimmune disease later in life. welcomes your comments below (registration is NOT required).

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