A history of gluten intolerance, a hereditary disease that affects thousands of Americans, appears to be a risk factor for schizophrenia, according to a new study.
Researchers identified nearly 8,000 people over age 15 , with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. The known risk factors such as socioeconomic class, urban residence, and family history of schizophrenia, as well as untested risk factors such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease were considered . Based on prior scientific literature, the researchers also included celiac disease -- a chronic hereditary intestinal disorder that is characterized by an inability to absorb gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats.
For the study, only celiac disease occurring before onset of schizophrenia was considered. Most people, however, live with celiac disease for years without getting sick. The tendency for it is inherited from parents, and usually something like severe stress, physical injury, infection, childbirth, or surgery "trigger" the disease. The researchers say this study shows a history of celiac disease is a risk factor for schizophrenia.
However researchers say an important question to consider is the degree to which removal of gluten from the diet will alleviate symptoms in the small proportion of people with schizophrenia who screen positively for celiac disease but do not show its classical symptoms, since gluten damages the intestines, the damage also keeps the body from absorbing nutrients, like vitamins, calcium, protein and fat from food.