Celiac disease (CD) is an autoimmune system response to gluten which can damage the small intestine. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Added gluten is often used by commercial bakers to make breads rise faster.
So why are so many people claiming major benefits from going gluten free? I am usually dubious of the latest diet craze but …
I discovered that my usual morning congestion vanished after the first two weeks of a weight loss diet which had eliminated bread. It occurred to me that I had inadvertently been gluten free. So I asked a cousin who had given up gluten about her experience and she explained that her perpetual debilitating sinus infections were gone now. Still dubious, I added bread slowly back into my diet. One ear infection and much congestion later, I started to think that gluten might actually be a problem for me.
I wondered if there was anything reported on this in my DNA. I opened my latest 23andme Genetic Health Risk report (under the top menu item Health)
It is important to understand that having a genetic variant associated with a disease does not mean you will get it, just that you are more at risk. There are usually many other factors that are needed to cause the condition. Science is still at the very early stages of figuring out the roles our genes play in various diseases.
My initial research suggests that people with celiac disease (CD) just about always have one or both of these variants, however having them does not guarantee that you will have gluten issues.
Here is a link to the 23andme blog post about CD:
According to the EU Science web site eurogene blog
… more than 97% of celiac sufferers have one or both of these HLA variants “and the number of alleles also influences the risk of developing the disease. Having said that, roughly 30% of the population carry one or more of these alleles but the prevalence of CD is only around 1-2%, so the HLA alleles are necessary, but not sufficient, for the development of celiac disease. “ However it also mentions “The majority of people with CD don’t even know that they have it, only about 10-20% of cases have been diagnosed, the rest remain undiagnosed for a variety of reasons, mainly because symptoms are not yet so severe that they lead to diagnostic testing.”
Apparently Europe has been dealing with this issue longer than we have; many of the best gluten free products are imports from Italy where they are very aware of celiac disease (CD) according to several of my gluten sensitive (GSD) friends who have traveled and eaten there. Another friend said it was easy to eat gluten free in London.
Naturally the next thing I did at 23andme was click on the blue scientific details link further down the Celiac report page which took me to a page with these details:
I noticed that I could click on the rs numbers in blue to get to the raw data page where it would show me more detail like the physical location on chromosome 6. There I saw that I had only one copy of each of these variants as already indicated on this initial page.
Next I checked my dad’s results as well. He has one copy of each of the same variants that I do. Checked my maternal aunts, since my mother was never tested, no variants for Aunt S and one variant for Aunt T. My brother who has severe congestion issues also has two variants but both of his are for just the HLA-DQ2.5 haplotype – one from each parent! Two of my Hordaland Norway third and fifth cousins have just one of that variant while several others have none.
I checked my Ancestry DNA results as well by opening the raw data in a spreadsheet program and doing a search for first rs2187668 (C/C is normal) then rs7454108 (T/T is normal). Yes they are both T/C – no error. You can do this search in any company’s results but these SNPs may not be tested by everyone.
Next I started wading through the scientific publication synopses looking for any association with congestion. I did not find that, but I did find an association with other autoimmune conditions. Many non-science backed articles mentioned the congestion issue, all with a similar statement, whose source I could not find, that sounds plausable:
“Gluten may trigger an exaggerated immune system response that causes the production of histamine in the sinus cavity. When gluten enters the body, the immune system mistakes the protein for an invading substance. It reacts to gluten the same way it would to an infectious organism, such as a bacteria or a virus. Antibodies are created to attack the gluten, which trigger white blood cells to produce histamine. Histamine helps protect the body from infection, but in high quantities it causes swelling, irritation and inflammation. ” – from https://www.livestrong.com/article/542319-gluten-nasal-congestion/
This statement caught my eye,
“Although the HLA-DQ2 and DQ8 haplotypes are associated with gluten intolerance, as a 2010 blog post indicates, the frequency of these haplotypes (20-30%) is much higher than the frequency of celiac disease (~1%), so perhaps the primary value of SNP testing in this context is to rule out the likelihood of gluten intolerance.”
My other go to website is the NIH where I found this article (via SNPedia) that explained the other problem alleles, type HLA-DQ2.2, that are useful tags for the CD condition (rs2395182 and rs7775228 tested at 23andme but not Ancestry DNA. ): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2386975/
Convinced that there might really be a genetic reason for my gluten issue I have chosen to continue my eating experiment. I have ordered various gluten free breads and noodles from Amazon. I like rice noodles anyway and look forward to making my peanut sauce Thai dishes more often. So far the breads are not as nutty and delicious as my favorite gluten rich types, but I will manage.
Here are some of the more interesting articles I found during my research:
On Gluten sensitivity
One interesting article has linked retroviruses with celiac activation
WebMD points out that you can get celiac disease at any age
23andme cites this article – Celiac Disease and Nonceliac Gluten Sensitivity: A Review.
How to go gluten free
From the celiac disease foundation
Link to a good summary PDF
Cooking gluten free
Recipes from the celiac disease foundation:
My Gluten Free Kitchen looks like a good blog
Most keto recipes are gluten free
I grew up with wonderful German flourless chocolate cakes. I have not yet tried any of the recipes out there but these look very good:
Be sure to use a gluten free baking powder!