Scientists have discovered that a protein in wheat triggers the inflammation of chronic health conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, and also contributes toward the development of non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
With past studies commonly focusing on gluten and its effect on digestive health, this new research, presented at UEG Week 2016, turns the spotlight onto a different family of proteins found in wheat called amylase-trypsin inhibitors.
The study shows that the consumption of ATIs can lead to the development of inflammation in tissues beyond the gut, including the lymph nodes, kidneys, spleen and brain. Evidence suggests that ATIs can worsen the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, asthma, lupus and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, as well as inflammatory bowel disease.
ATIs make up no more than 4% of wheat proteins, but can trigger powerful immune reactions in the gut that can spread to other tissues in the body.
"As well as contributing to the development of bowel-related inflammatory conditions, we believe that ATIs can promote inflammation of other immune-related chronic conditions outside of the bowel," explains Professor Detlef Schuppan from the Johannes Gutenberg University. "The type of gut inflammation seen in non-celiac gluten sensitivity differs from that caused by celiac disease, and we do not believe that this is triggered by gluten proteins. Instead, we demonstrated that ATIs from wheat, that are also contaminating commercial gluten, activate specific types of immune cells in the gut and other tissues, thereby potentially worsening the symptoms of pre-existing inflammatory illnesses."
Clinical studies exploring the role that ATIs play on chronic health conditions in more detail are scheduled to start soon. Professor Schuppan hopes it confirms that an ATI-free diet can help treat a variety of potentially serious immunological disorders.
ATIs may also be the reason some people who do not have celiac disease still have a sensitivity to gluten. Intestinal symptoms, such as abdominal pain and irregular bowel movements, are frequently reported, which can make it difficult to distinguish from IBS. However, extra-intestinal symptoms can assist with diagnosis — these include headaches, joint pain and eczema. These symptoms typically appear after the consumption of gluten-containing food and improve rapidly on a gluten-free diet. Yet, gluten does not appear to cause the condition.
"Rather than non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which implies that gluten solitarily causes the inflammation, a more precise name for the disease should be considered," concludes Professor Schuppan.