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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Being Poor and Dirty May Help Protect Against Celiac Disease

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Celiac.com 04/07/2008 - No, this is not some kind of April Fool’s joke.When I read this report, I just about fell off my chair. New research indicates thatbeing poor and living in squalor might actually provide some benefitagainst the development of celiac disease.

    A team of medicalresearchers recently set out to examine gene-environmental interactionsin the pathogenesis of celiac disease. The research team was made up ofA. Kondrashova, K. Mustalahti, K. Kaukinen, H. Viskari, V. Volodicheva,A. M. Haapala, J. Ilonen, M. Knip, M. Mäki, H. Hyöty, T. E. Group.Finland and nearby Russian Karelia have populations that eat about thesame amounts of the same grains and grain products. The two populationsalso have a high degree of shared genetic ancestry. The only majordifference between the populations of the two areas lies in theirsocioeconomic conditions.

    The region of Russian Karelia ismuch poorer than the neighboring areas in nearby Finland. Thesanitation levels in Russian Karelia are also distinctly inferior thanthey are in Finland. The researchers compared the prevalence of celiacdisease and predisposing human leukocyte antigen (HLA) alleles inpopulations from Russian Karelia and Finland. The team performedscreening for tissue transglutaminase antibodies (tTG) and HLA-DQalleles on 1988 school-age children from Karelia and 3654 children fromFinland. Children with transglutaminase antibodies were encouraged tohave a duodenal biopsy.

    Interestingly, the patients fromRussian Karelia showed tTG antibodies far less often than their Finnishcounterparts (0.6% compared to 1.4%, P = 0.005). The patients fromRussian Karelia also showed Immunoglobulin class G (IgG) antigliadinantibodies far less frequently than their Finnish patients (10.2%compared to 28.3%, P<0.0001).

    The researchers confirmed adiagnosis of celiac disease by duodenal biopsy in four of the eighttransglutaminase antibody-positive Karelian children, for an occurrencerate of 1 in 496 versus 1 in 107 Finnish children.

    In bothgroups, the same HLA-DQ alleles were associated with celiac disease andthe presence of transglutaminase antibodies. The patients from RussianKarelia showed a much lower prevalence of transglutaminase antibodiesand celiac disease than the Finnish children. 

    The poorconditions and inferior hygienic conditions in Russian Karelia mightprovide some kind of protection against the development of celiacdisease. The value of studies like this aren’t to make us wax nostalgicfor poverty, or to encourage people to fend off celiac disease bybecoming poor and living in squalid conditions. The value of a studylike this lies in the idea that there may be more to the development ofceliac disease than simple biological factors. That environmentalconditions might play a key role in both the frequency ofceliac-related antibodies, and in the development of the disease itselfis quite intriguing and clearly warrants further and more comprehensivestudy.

    Ann Med. 2008;40(3):223-31.

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    The poor have a high infant mortality rate. What about the spontaneous abortions? The doctors here are not even giving blood tests when women miscarry. It helps prove the antibody and biopsy testing is limited. There is a test I found on the net that is non- invasive. Does anyone have the chance to see if it can help? Also, how about all of those who are 'asymptomatic.' Many docs try to evade with this fact. I am surprised.

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    Do the Russian Karelians eat more buckwheat, millet and rice than their richer Finnish cousins? Development of coeliac disease depends on exposure to gluten, so a diet low in gluten is less likely to stimulate the response. The Saharawi population in Africa had little historical exposure to gluten. When it was introduced to their diet, they developed incredible rates of coeliac disease. Here's a quote:


    --- It has been hypothesized that the abrupt change of feeding habits in this population played a primary role in increasing the risk of celiac disease (18). In the traditional diet, the main foods consisted of camel milk and meat, moderate amounts of cereals (wheat, barley and millet), legumes (lentils) and dates. Young children were exclusively fed with breast milk during the first years of life. After the european colonization, bread made of wheat became the staple food of this population. Moreover, duration of the breast feeding felt dramatically down, and it is not uncommon nowadays to see Saharawi children that are weaned during the first three months of life.


    The strong genetic predisposition and the 'sudden load' of dietary gluten, in a population that was not used to high intakes of this protein, seem therefore to be the factors responsible for the celiac disease 'endemy' in the Saharawis.---


    That's from the Italian Coeliac Society's website.

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    Perhaps, along with the poor conditions in Russia also reflects on more bacteria (probiotic link) to be included in the intestines of this group of people. Isn't the probiotic link and some relief from the symptoms of Celiac Disease already being tested at this time? I do agree that the probiotic I am on does relieve some of my symptoms. I would like to try the actual one that was described in one of the other articles.

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in biology, anatomy, medicine, science, and advanced research, and scientific methods. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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