I was thrilled to come across a paper about non-celiac gluten sensitivity in children in the Journal of Pediatrics, one of the main pediatric journals. Many of my pediatrician colleagues read this journal on a regular basis. In this article, a group of Italian researchers has described the symptoms and lab test results in 15 children with gluten sensitivity (GS) compared to 15 children with active celiac disease and 15 controls (children with IBS-type symptoms that have no correlation with gluten intake). None of the children included in the GS group had an IgE-mediated wheat allergy causing symptoms. Most of the children in the study were between 8 and 10 years old.
Here is a brief overview of the research study:
The main symptoms in the gluten sensitive group included abdominal pain, chronic diarrhea, bloating, failure to thrive (poor growth), vomiting, and constipation. These symptoms were similar to those seen in the group of children with active celiac disease. The “control” group of children with functional (IBS-type symptoms) had only abdominal pain and indigestion as symptoms.
The gluten sensitive children had “extraintestinal” symptoms of tiredness, headaches, and limb pains. Interestingly, these were not seen in children with active celiac disease. The celiac group of children had anemia and elevated liver function enzymes but the gluten sensitive children did not.
Two thirds of the gluten sensitive children had abnormally high antigliadin IgG antibodies (this is an older antibody that was used in the past to assess for celiac disease, but is no longer used because it is non-specific for celiac disease). None of the gluten sensitive children had elevated celiac antibodies (TTG IgA and endomysial IgA). All of the children with active celiac disease had abnormally high TTG IgA and endomysial IgA levels and 13/15 with celiac disease had elevated antigliadin antibodies. The control group kiddos with functional abdominal pain were negative for all antibodies (antigliadin, TTG, and endomysial).
Seven of the 15 children with GS had one of the celiac genes (DQ2/8) and 8 did not. The 8 gluten sensitive children who were DQ2/8 negative all had some combination of HLA DQ1, DQ5, and DQ7.
Eleven of the 15 GS children had an intestinal biopsy while on a gluten-containing diet. All of those with GS had normal to mildly inflamed intestinal mucosa, corresponding to Marsh stage 0 to 1.
In summary, the authors provide findings that support the existence of gluten sensitivity in children as a distinct problem from celiac disease. Children with gluten sensitivity have celiac-like symptoms that resolve on a gluten free diet and return when gluten is reintroduced. Although gluten sensitive children often have elevated antigliadin IgG levels, they have normal TTG IgA and endomysial IgA levels, at least in this study. Their small bowel biopsies show no evidence of villous blunting and, in the majority of cases, the biopsies are normal. In addition, these children’s symptoms are not as a result of being allergic to wheat. Although this is a small study, it is a step in the right direction toward the recognition of non-celiac gluten sensitivity in the pediatric population, and I am thankful that there is finally a research study to support its existence. I am looking forward to being able to read and share similar articles with you.
Francavilla, R., Cristofori, F., Castellaneta, S., et al. Clinical, serologic, and histologic features of gluten sensitivity in children. Journal of Pediatrics. E-pub ahead of print. Nov. 16, 2013