Scientists have warned that a protein in wheat can lead to the development of inflammation in tissues beyond the gut, including the lymph nodes, kidneys, spleen and brain.
The amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATIs) protein can worsen the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, asthma, lupus and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease as well as inflammatory bowel disease.
‘The non-coeliac gluten sensitivity condition is now an accepted medical diagnosis for people who do not have coeliac disease but benefit from a gluten-free diet.’
ATIs make up no more than 4 per cent of wheat proteins but can trigger powerful immune reactions in the gut that can spread to other tissues in the body.
"ATIs can promote inflammation of other immune-related chronic conditions outside of the bowel. The type of gut inflammation seen in non-coeliac gluten sensitivity differs from that caused by coeliac disease, and we do not believe that this is triggered by gluten proteins," explained lead researcher and Professor Detlef Schuppan from Johannes Gutenberg University, Germany.
"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," he added.
With past studies commonly focusing on gluten and its impact on digestive health, new research turns the spotlight onto ATIs. The non-coeliac gluten sensitivity condition is now an accepted medical diagnosis for people who do not have coeliac disease but benefit from a gluten-free diet.
Intestinal symptoms, such as abdominal pain and irregular bowel movements, are frequently reported, which can make it difficult to distinguish from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Clinical studies are now due to commence to explore the role that ATIs play on chronic health conditions in more detail.
"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" Schuppan noted. Professor Schuppan hoped that the research will also help to redefine non-coeliac gluten sensitivity to a more appropriate term.
The research was presented at UEG Week 2016 in Vienna last weekend.