It is typically been thought that celiac disease, a condition where the immune structure treats gluten as an attacker and makes antibodies to fight against it, is a genetic disease. A new investigation, however, has introduced proof that the condition could be triggered by viral infections.
Researchers have demonstrated how a seemingly benign human virus can trigger an immune answer against gluten when the protein was given to mice. Their research is published in The Science.
They found that intestinal viruses can cause the immune structure to react to gluten, and wondered if this could be a trigger to developing celiac disease. They experimented this by infecting mice with a common type of reovirus, which is usually symptomless, and then feeding them small amounts of gliadin, an element of gluten.
Their outcomes showed that the mouse infected with the virus made up to three times more antibodies against the protein in the two days when they were fed gluten than when they were virus-free.
The researchers looked at patients with celiacs disease and obtained they had much higher levels of antibodies against reoviruses than those without the disease. Those with higher rates of antibodies had higher levels of the molecule IRF-1, which plays a key role in the loss of gluten tolerance.
The study concludes that infection from a reovirus could be key in developing celiac disease. The researchers suggest that when children firstly encounter solid food, usually around six months, they are particularly vulnerable to viral infections because their immune structure is still developing.
For those children already genetically predisposed to celiac disease, the combined effect of being vulnerable to viruses coupled with their first exposure to gluten might cause a perfect storm to develop the disease. That’s why we believe that once we have more samples, we may want to think about whether children at increased risk of developing celiac disease should be vaccinated, mentioned senior author Bana Jabri in a statement.
Celiac disease is rare, and even fewer people are diagnosed with it. However, low diagnosis doesn’t necessarily mean people don’t have celiac disease, it only means they haven’t officially been diagnosed with it by a doctor.
With the recent trend for gluten-free food as a health alternative, despite there being no evidence that it is, more people are cutting out gluten by self-diagnosis. If you think you might be intolerant to gluten, go and see a doctor first. They can’t diagnose it if you have already removed it from your diet.
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