Gluten allergy attributed to genes
People who are allergic to gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, have probably inherited the disorder from their parents.
Gluten allergy, also known as coeliac disease, is a condition requiring a strict gluten free diet, and the main organ affected is the small intestine. In this, the normal process of food digestion and absorption is disrupted. As a result, untreated coeliac patients lose weight, develop deficiencies such as anaemia, and have diarrhoea. It was thought to be inherited, but the current study is the largest to date to look at identical and non-identical twins.
In a study carried out by researchers at the University of Naples, Italy, identical twins, who are genetically the same were compared to non-identical twins, who share only the same number of genes as most other siblings. This helped determine the extent the ailment may be genetic and how much is due to a shared environment. The findings are based on blood samples drawn from 47 identical and non-identical twin pairs, where at least one twin had been diagnosed with coeliac disease. Individuals were tested for antibodies that are specific to the disease.
In 38% of the twin pairs, both had signs of coeliac disease of these, 75% were identical twins and 11% were non-identical twins. A shared environment did not affect the risk of developing the disease. They found that environmental factors have little or no effect on the digestive disorder. Although some genetic variations are known to increase the risk of the disease, the researchers could not locate a gene that exerts a major affect. It is more likely that a series of genetic characteristics which individually exert little effect but which collectively characterize a large gluten intolerance is largely responsible.
Gut April 2002, Vol. 50(4)
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