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Gluten Sensitivity: A Gastroenterologist's Personal Journey Down the Gluten Rabbit Hole by Dr. Scot Lewey
Dr. Scot Lewey posted an article in Celiac DiseaseThis article appeared in the Winter 2007 edition of Celiac.coms Scott-Free Newsletter. Celiac.com 01/30/2007 - Gluten intolerance resulting in symptoms and illness similar to celiac disease without meeting diagnostic criteria for celiac disease is a new concept. This concept of non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) or gluten related disease (GRD) may be a new paradigm that is hard for some people to swallow, especially when I suggest that it affects as much as 10% to 30% of the population. Gluten ingestion is an avoidable, treatable, and reversible cause of illness in many people. It is contributing to the rising epidemic of autoimmune diseases. Many resist these concepts finding them either unbelievable, unacceptable or both. I believe that their rejection is neither rational nor helpful. It may be reasonable to reject them for cultural or financial reasons though I don’t believe they can legitimately be rejected based on scientific grounds or experience. Celiac disease is not rare. Celiac disease affects 1 in 100 people in the world. Yet the diagnosis of celiac disease is still frequently missed and/or delayed. It is a common disease that is often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. It may even be the most common autoimmune disorder. Though the risk is largely genetic, it is preventable by simply avoiding gluten. Autoimmune diseases associated with celiac disease may also be preventable by avoiding gluten. When I was in medical school over twenty-five years ago, I was taught that celiac disease was rare. In residency we were shown photos of short, emaciated children with skinny limbs and pot-bellies. We were told that their medical history included symptoms of profuse, watery, floating, foul-smelling diarrhea, and iron deficiency anemia. The picture and story was burned into the hard drive of our brains, not necessarily because anyone believed we would see someone with celiac disease in our practice, but because celiac disease was considered rare and odd enough that it was a favorite board examination question. That image and story remains in the mind of most physicians, preventing them from seeing celiac disease in a much broader light. When I entered subspecialty training in gastroenterology, 13 years ago, specific blood tests for celiac disease were available but still new. We were beginning to order the blood test when classic symptoms of celiac disease were seen without an identifiable cause, or if we happened to sample the small intestine during endoscopy and classic Sprue changes were seen in the intestinal biopsy. celiac disease was still considered somewhat rare. We did not routinely biopsy the small intestine to screen for celiac disease, and genetic tests were not yet available. It wasn’t until 2003 that Fasano’s landmark article reported Celiac disease affected 1 in 133 people in the U.S. Only recently has it been accepted that family members of people with celiac disease, those with digestive symptoms, osteoporosis, anemia, and certain neurological, skin or autoimmune disorders constitute high risk groups for celiac disease. They have an even higher risk of between 2% to 5%, though most physicians are unaware of these statistics. Every week, using the strict diagnostic criteria, I confirm 2-3 new cases of celiac disease. I also see 5-10 established celiac disease patients. However, for every identified celiac disease patient there are 3-10 who have clinical histories consistent with celiac disease, but who fail to meet the diagnostic criteria. Yet they respond to a gluten-free diet. Many have suggestive blood test results, biopsies and or gene patterns but some do not. More than 90% of people proven to have celiac disease carry one or both of two white blood cell protein patterns or human leukocyte antigen (HLA) patterns HLA DQ2 and/or DQ8. However, so do 35-45% of the general U.S. population, especially those of Northern European ancestry. Yet celiac disease is present in only 1% of the same population. DQ2 or DQ8 are considered by some experts to be necessary though not sufficient to develop celiac disease. However, celiac disease without those two genes has been reported. Other gluten related diseases including dermatitis herpetiformis, the neurological conditions of ataxia and peripheral neuropathy, and microscopic colitis have been described in DQ2 and DQ8 negative individuals. The DQ genetic patterns found in other gluten related diseases and associated with elevated stool antibody tests indicate that many more people are genetically at risk for gluten sensitivity. Furthermore, the response of numerous symptoms to gluten-free diet is not limited to people who are DQ2 or DQ8 positive. Most celiac experts agree upon and feel comfortable advising people who meet the strict criteria for the diagnosis of celiac disease: they need to follow a life-long gluten-free diet. Controversy and confusion arises when the strict criteria are not met, yet either patient and/or doctor believe that gluten is the cause of their symptoms and illness. Many alternative practitioners advise wheat-free, yeast-free diets, which are frequently met with favorable response to what is really a form of gluten-free diet. Similarly, the popularity and successes of low carbohydrate diets require adherence to a diet that has been credited with improvement of headaches, fatigue, bloating, musculoskeletal aches, and an increased general sense of well-being that is self-reported by many dieters. I believe this is because of the low gluten content. Gluten avoidance is clearly associated with improvement of many intestinal and extra-intestinal symptoms such as those listed above. Many also stumble onto this association after initiating a gluten-free diet or wheat-free diet on the advice of friends or family members; dieticians, nutritionists, alternative or complementary practitioners; or after reading an article on the Internet. Within the medical community, there seems to be an irrational resistance to a more widespread recommendation for gluten avoidance. Physicians who maintain that those who fail to meet strict criteria for diagnosis of celiac disease should not be told they have to follow a gluten-free diet will often acknowledge that many of these patients respond favorably to a gluten-free diet. Some, however, continue to insist that a gluten-free diet trial is unnecessary, unduly burdensome, or not scientifically proven to benefit those who do not have celiac disease. This position is taken despite the absence of evidence that a gluten-free diet is unhealthy or dangerous and much evidence supporting it as a healthy diet. Those of us who have observed dramatic improvements, both personally and professionally, find such resistance to recommending a gluten-free diet to a broader group of people difficult to understand. Considering the potential dangers and limited benefits of the medications that we, as doctors, prescribe to patients for various symptoms, it really seems absurd to reject dietary treatments. Yet, it does not seem to cross most doctors’ minds to suggest something as safe and healthy as a gluten-free diet, let alone to, at least, test for celiac disease. My personal journey into gluten related illness began when my physician wife was diagnosed with celiac disease. I had mentioned to her numerous times over several years that I thought she should be tested for celiac disease. After her second pregnancy she became progressively more ill experiencing, for the first time in her life, diarrhea, fatigue, and chronic neuropathy. An upper endoscopy revealed classic endoscopic findings. Celiac disease blood tests were elevated, and genetic testing confirmed she was DQ2 positive. This forever changed our lives and my practice. But the story doesn’t end there. Having diagnosed myself with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and lactose intolerance in medical school, I had not considered gluten as a possible cause of my symptoms until my wife turned the table on me and said I should also be tested for celiac disease. My blood tests were not elevated but I was confirmed to also be DQ2 positive. Having observed a good response to gluten-free diet in a few of my patients who had elevated stool gliadin antibody levels, I looked critically at the research behind this testing and spoke with Dr. Ken Fine before paying to have my entire family tested through Enterolab. Both my gliadin and tTG antibodies were elevated and I responded well to a gluten-free diet. I began recommending stool antibody and DQ genetic screening to patients who did not meet the strict criteria for celiac disease but appeared to have symptoms suggestive of gluten sensitivity. Contrary to some critics’ claims about the stool antibody tests, there are many people who do not have elevated levels. Almost everyone I have seen with elevated levels has noted improvement with gluten-free diet, including myself. Not only did my “IBS” symptoms resolve and lactose tolerance dramatically improve, but my eyes were further opened to the spectrum of gluten related illness or symptoms. I was already aggressively looking for celiac disease in my patients but I began considering non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) or gluten related diseases (GRD) in all my patients. What I have found is that gluten is an extremely common but frequently missed cause of intestinal and non-intestinal symptoms. Dramatic improvements in symptoms and health can be observed in patients who try a gluten-free diet. Since only a fraction of DQ2 or DQ8 positive individuals have or will eventually get celiac disease, does that mean gluten is safe to eat if you have those gene patterns? Even if you do not get celiac disease, does continuing to eat gluten put you at risk for other autoimmune diseases, especially ones linked to the high risk gene patterns? Why do some people with these patterns get celiac disease but most do not? Do some who do not have celiac disease experience symptoms from gluten that would improve with gluten-free diet? These questions need to be answered so that people can decide whether they want to risk that gluten is causing them to be ill, or is increasing their risk of celiac disease or other autoimmune diseases. Added to my gluten-free diet, a daily diet of scientific articles on celiac and gluten related disease has revealed that there are many clues in the literature and research indicating the existence of non-celiac gluten sensitivity or a need to broaden our definition of celiac disease. Dr. Hadjivassiliou has called for a new paradigm. He advocates that we start thinking of gluten sensitivity not as an intestinal disease but a spectrum of multiple organ, gluten-related diseases. Mary Schluckebier, director of CSA, asks that physicians interested in this area work on forming and agreeing on new definitions for gluten related illness while pushing for more research and cooperation between medical researchers, food and agricultural scientists, dieticians, and food manufacturers. Only those who look for NCGS and advise a gluten-free diet to those not meeting the strict criteria for celiac disease, are going to see the larger group of people who have a favorable response to a broader application of the gluten-free diet without further research. Those of us who are personally affected by gluten sensitivity or professionally involved in treating individuals with adverse reactions to gluten (or both) should support the research into the broader problem of gluten related illness. I believe that NCGS is real and will be validated in studies. Are you open to this concept and are you willing support more research in this area? Dr. Scot Lewey is a physician who is specialty trained and board certified in the field of gastroenterology (diseases of the digestive system) who practices his specialty in Colorado. He is the physician advisor to the local celiac Sprue support group and is a published author and researcher who is developing a web based educational program for people suffering from food intolerances, www.thefooddoc.com Copyright 2006 The Food Doc, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Dr. Scot Lewey posted an article in Celiac DiseaseThis article appeared in the Summer 2006 edition of Celiac.coms Scott-Free Newsletter. Celiac.com 08/31/2006 - All of us have patterns of proteins on the surface of our white blood cells. These proteins are known as human leukocyte antigens (HLA), one of which is DQ. Celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), and several autoimmune conditions occur more frequently with certain HLA DQ types. DQ gene testing is performed by analyzing cells from a blood sample or from a Q-tip swab of the mouth. HLA types have a naming system that can be confusing even to scientists and physicians but here is my explanation of the testing, the results, and what they may mean to you and your family. Each of us has two copies of HLA DQ. Because there are 9 serotypes of DQ we are all DQx/DQx where x is a number between 1 & 9. For example, I am DQ2/DQ7. I received the DQ2 from one of my parents and the DQ7 from the other. Because we get one DQ type from each of our parents and give one to each of our children it is easy to to see how the DQ genes pass through a family. This is important because two DQ types, DQ2 and DQ8, are estimated to be present in over 98% of all people who have celiac disease, the most severe form of gluten sensitivity. Rarely, true celiac disease or dermatitis herpetiformis, the skin disease equivalent of celiac, have been reported to occur in people who do not have DQ2 and/or DQ8. However, according to unpublished data from Dr. Ken Fine of Enterolab, the other six types, except DQ4, are associated with risk for elevated stool antibodies to gliadin, the toxic fraction of gluten, and/or tissue transglutaminase (tTG) an enzyme. Both of these antibodies are usually elevated in the blood of individuals with celiac disease though they may be normal in the blood of individuals who are gluten sensitive and have a normal small intestine biopsy but respond favorably to a gluten-free diet. Fine has publicly reported that elevated stool antibodies to gliadin and/or tTG have been detected in all of the untreated celiacs tested in his lab and 60% of non-celiacs who have symptoms consistent with gluten sensitivity but in none of the controls tested including cow manure. Follow up surveys of those individuals with elevated stool antibodies who initiated a gluten-free diet compared with those with elevated antibodies who did not reportedly showed significantly improved quality of life and improved symptoms in the gluten-free group. He also reported DQ2 and DQ8 positive individuals have had, as a rule, the highest elevations of stool gliadin antibody followed by those who are DQ7 positive. Only those who are doubly positive for DQ4 have not been found to have significantly elevated antibodies to indicated gluten sensitivity. This is consistent with the differences in prevalence rates of celiac disease seen in various parts of the world since DQ4 is not generally found in Caucasians of Northern European ancestry where celiac incidence is highest but in those from Asia or Southern Africa where there is a very low incidence of celiac disease and gluten intolerance. DQ2 & DQ8, the two major types present in 90-99% of people who have celiac disease, are present in approximately 35-45% of people in the U.S., especially those of Caucasian race of Northern European ancestry, with highest risk of celiac disease but the prevalence in U.S. of celiac disease is 1%. Though a prevalence of 1 in 100 is very common and much higher than had been believed for years, only a fraction of the genetically at risk are confirmed to have celiac disease by abnormal blood tests and small intestine biopsies. However, the number of people who report a positive response to gluten-free diet is much higher. The stool antibody tests results would support this and the concept of a spectrum of gluten sensitivity that is much broader and in need of better diagnostic definitions. I am an example of someone who is DQ2/DQ7 who has normal blood tests for celiac disease but abnormal stool antibody tests and symptoms that responded to gluten-free diet. The strict criteria for diagnosing celiac disease, which is abnormal blood tests and a characteristic small intestine biopsy showing classic damage from gluten, is much narrower than what is being seen clinically. It is becoming obvious to many of us who have personal and professional medical experience with gluten intolerance and celiac disease that the problem of gluten sensitivity is much greater and extends beyond the high risk celiac genes DQ2 and DQ8. Traditionally it is reported and believed by many that if you are DQ2 and DQ8 negative you are unlikely to have celiac disease or ever develop it, though this cannot be said with 100% certainty especially since there are documented cases of celiac disease and the skin equivalent of celiac disease, known as dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) in individuals who are DQ2 and DQ8 negative. Therefore, knowing your DQ specific serotype pattern may be helpful for several reasons. For example, if you have more than one copy of DQ2 or DQ8, you carry two of the major genes. For example, if you are DQ2/DQ2, DQ2/DQ8, or DQ8/DQ8, a term Scott Adams of www.celiac.com has dubbed a "super celiac" you may be at much higher risk for celiac disease and have more severe gluten sensitivity. Certainly if you are DQ2 and/or DQ8 positive you are at increased risk for celiac disease. After a single copy of DQ2 or DQ8, it appears that DQ7/DQ7 might be next highest risk. Dr. Fine has also noted some other associations of the DQ patterns with microscopic or collagenous colitis, neurologic manifestations of gluten sensitivity and dermatitis herpetiformis, which has been one of the gluten sensitive conditions noted to be, at times, occurring in DQ2, DQ8 negative individuals. Why some people get celiac Disease or become gluten sensitive is not well understood but certain factors are believed to include onset of puberty, pregnancy, stress, trauma or injury, surgery, viral or bacterial infections including those of the gut, medication induced gut injury or toxicity e.g. non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, etc., immune suppression or autoimmune diseases especially since several of those factors are associated with onset or unmasking of gluten sensitivity in someone who is at risk or not manifesting any recognizable symptoms. There is also well known group of individuals who are termed "latent" celiacs. They are at high risk because they have close relatives who have celiac disease with whom they share one or more of the celiac genes DQ2 and/or DQ8 though they usually have few or no symptoms but sometimes have abnormal blood tests and/or biopsies indicating possible or definite celiac disease. Others have negative blood tests and normal biopsies but symptoms that respond to a gluten-free diet. The severity of the sensitivity to gluten appears to be related to the DQ type, family history (highest risk is in the non affected identical twin of a celiac), pre-existing intestinal injury, degree of exposure to gluten (how frequent and large a gluten load an individual is exposed to), and immune status. Once initiated, gluten sensitivity tends to be life long. True celiac disease requires life-long complete gluten avoidance to reduce the increased risk of serious complications of undiagnosed and untreated celiac such as severe malabsorption, cancers, especially of the GI tract and lymphoma, other autoimmune diseases and premature death due to these complications. Again, DQ testing can be done with cells from blood or by a swab of the inside of the mouth but not all labs test for or report the full DQ typing but only the presence or absence of DQ2 and DQ8. The lab that performs DQ testing is usually determined by an individual insurance company on the basis of contracts with specific commercial labs. However, if your insurance contracts with Quest Labs or the Laboratory at Bonfils (Denver, CO) full DQ can be done if ordered and authorized by the insurance company. For those willing to pay out of pocket, Bonfils performs full DQ testing for Enterolab (www.enterolab.com) on a sample obtained by a Q tip swab of the mouth. Since it is painless and non-invasive it is well tolerated especially by young children. Also because the testing can be ordered without a physician and the sample obtained in their home using a kit obtained from Enterolab it is convenient. The kit is returned by overnight delivery by to Enterolab who forwards the test onto Bonfils. The cost is $149 for the genetic testing alone and has to be paid for in advance by credit card or money order and is generally not reimbursed by insurance. Enterolab also provides the stool testing for gliadin and tissue transglutaminase antibodies to determine if gluten sensitivity is evident. The gliadin antibody alone is $99 or the full panel includes genetic typing, stool testing for gluten and cows milk protein antibodies, and a test for evidence of malabsorption is $349. Again, the advantages of full DQ testing is determining if someone has more than one copy of DQ2 or DQ8 or carry both and therefore have a higher risk for celiac disease or more severe gluten intolerance. If you are DQ2 or DQ8 negative then your risk of celiac disease is low, though not non-existent. If you are not DQ4/DQ4 then you do have risk for gluten sensitivity. If you determine all DQ types within enough family members you can piece together a very accurate history of the origin of celiac and gluten sensitivity within a family and make some very accurate predictions of risk to other family members. Though the lay public and many clinicians are finding the genetic tests helpful, many, including most physicians, do not understand the genetics of gluten sensitivity. We are awaiting Dr. Fines published data on the significance of stool antibody tests and their association to the other DQ types as his lab is the only lab offering the stool antibody tests in the U.S. Other celiac researchers in U.S. have failed to reproduce his assay but scattered reports in the literature are appearing including a recent article in the British Medical Journal indicating stool antibody testing is feasible, non-invasive, and using their protocol, highly specific but not sensitive for celiac disease in children. (Editors note: When present, these antibodies indicate celiac disease. However, they are not present in many cases of celiac disease.) In the meantime, many patients are faced with the uncertainty and added cost of full DQ testing and stool testing due to the failure of traditional blood tests, small bowel biopsies, and the presence or absence of DQ2 and DQ8 to diagnose or exclude gluten sensitivity. Physicians unfamiliar with this testing are increasingly presented with the results and confused or skeptical pending published reports. The medical community continues to lack a consensus regarding the definitions of non-celiac gluten sensitivity and what tests justify recommendations for gluten-free diet. It is clear that gluten sensitivity, by any criteria, is much more common than ever thought and a hidden epidemic exists. Dr. Scot Lewey is a physician who is specialty trained and board certified in the field of gastroenterology (diseases of the digestive system) who practices his specialty in Colorado. He is the physician advisor to the local celiac Sprue support group and is a published author and researcher who is developing a web based educational program for people suffering from food intolerances, www.thefooddoc.com Article Source: EzineArticles.com