Wheat proteins may cause inflammation beyond the gut

New research suggests that a family of proteins in wheat may be responsible for activating inflammation in chronic health conditions such as multiple sclerosis, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis.Scientists discovered that the proteins might also contribute to the development of non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Although wheat was only added to the human diet around 12,000 years ago, it has become a major dietary staple and is widely used in processed foods. One group of proteins found in wheat, amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATIs), has been shown to trigger an immune response in the gut that can spread to other tissues in the body.

ATIs are plant-derived proteins that inhibit enzymes of common parasites in wheat, such as mealworms and mealybugs. ATIs also have an important role in metabolic processes that occur during seed development.

Many previous studies have focused on the impact of gluten on digestive health. However, lead researcher Professor Detlef Schuppan, from the Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany, and team aimed to highlight the role played by ATIs in digestive health and beyond.

ATIs make up only a small amount of wheat proteins, around 4 percent, but in some people the immune response they induce significantly affects the lymph nodes, kidneys, spleen, and brain causing inflammation. It is also thought that ATIs exacerbate rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sceloris (MS), asthma, lupus and non-alcohol related fatty liver disease, as well as inflammatory bowel disease.

"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. 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," Professor Schuppan commented.

"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."

Wheat -free diet may help treat immunological disorders

Some individuals experience stomach symptoms when eating foods with ingredients containing gluten, such as wheat, barley, and rye, even if they do not have celiac disease. ATIs may contribute to this non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). This area of research is relatively new, and more research needs to be conducted to understand NCGS and who is at risk.

While gluten is not believed to cause NCGS, people with the condition have been reported to benefit from a gluten-free diet. Some of their symptoms, such as abdominal pain and irregular bowel movements, headaches, joint pain, and eczema, rapidly improve when eating foods devoid of gluten.

Professor Schuppan notes that the team's research could help redefine the condition to a more appropriate term: "Rather than non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which implies that gluten solitarily causes the inflammation, a more precise name for the disease should be considered."

Researchers are currently preparing studies to investigate further the effect of ATIs on chronic health conditions. "We are hoping that this research can lead us towards being able to recommend an ATI-free diet to help treat a variety of potentially serious immunological disorders." Professor Schuppan concludes.

The findings of the research were presented at the United European Gastroenterology Week in Vienna, Austria, a meeting for specialists to communicate the latest research in digestive and liver diseases.

Relating to the abdomen, which is the region of the body between the chest and the pelvis. Full medical glossary
An enzyme that breaks starch down into sugar. Full medical glossary
Inflammation of one or more joints of the body. Full medical glossary
A respiratory disease featuring attacks of breathlessness and wheezing due to inflammation and narrowing of the upper airways. There is often an allergic component. Full medical glossary
A common name for the large and/or small intestines. Full medical glossary
The basic unit of all living organisms. Full medical glossary
A disease of long duration generally involving slow changes. Full medical glossary
An inflammation of the skin, usually causing itching and sometimes scaling and blisters. Full medical glossary
A protein that speeds up chemical reactions in the body without being used up itself. Full medical glossary
One of the three main food constituents (with carbohydrate and protein), and the main form in which energy is stored in the body. Full medical glossary
Relating to the structure and function of the immune system, the organs in the body that are specialised to fight infection. Full medical glossary
The body’s response to injury. Full medical glossary
One of two bean-shaped organs that are located on either side of the body, below the ribcage. The main role of the kidneys is to filter out waste products from the blood. Full medical glossary
A large abdominal organ that has many important roles including the production of bile and clotting factors, detoxification, and the metabolism of proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Full medical glossary
A watery or milky bodily fluid containing lymphocytes, proteins and fats. Lymph accumulates outside the blood vessels in the intercellular spaces of the body tiisues and is collected by the vessels of the lymphatic system. Full medical glossary
Relating to metabolism. Full medical glossary
multiple sclerosis Full medical glossary
A progressive disease of the central nervous system. Full medical glossary
Compounds that form the structure of muscles and other tissues in the body, as well as comprising enzymes and hormones. Full medical glossary
A pale yellow or green,creamy fluid found at the site of bacterial infection. Full medical glossary
A type of autoimmune arthritis featuring chronic inflammation of the small joints, especially in the hands and feet, and eventually leading to joint destruction and deformity Full medical glossary
An organ situated on the left side of the abdomen that filters out worn-out red blood cells and other foreign bodies from the bloodstream. Full medical glossary
the organ or the body where food is stored and broken down Full medical glossary
A group of cells with a similar structure and a specialised function. Full medical glossary