A group of proteins found in wheat can cause symptoms of such inflammatory health conditions as multiple sclerosis (MS), asthma and rheumatoid arthritis to worsen, and may also promote gluten sensitivity, according to researchers at Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany.
These findings, recently presented at United European Gastroenterology (UEG) Week 2016, turn attention away from one group of proteins — gluten, associated with digestive problems — to another, known as amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATIs).
ATIs compose up to 4 percent of wheat proteins, and are powerful enhancers of immune reactions in the intestine and other organs, such as the lymph nodes, kidneys, spleen, and brain. These proteins can also exacerbate symptoms of MS, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, lupus, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and 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 nonchronic conditions outside of the bowel,” Professor Detlef Schuppan, the lead researcher, said in a news release. “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. 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.”
The team is studying exactly how ATIs can lead to chronic inflammatory health conditions. According to Schuppan, such information may help scientists understand whether an ATI-free diet could be a therapeutic strategy to treat these diseases.
ATIs can also lead to non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, a condition diagnosed in people who do not have coeliac disease (adverse reaction to gluten) but still benefit from a gluten-free diet. Symptoms include abdominal pain and irregular bowel movements, as well as headaches, joint pain, and eczema, and appear after consumption of food containing gluten proteins. Although gluten is not believed to be the direct cause of this condition, these symptoms ease with a gluten-free diet.
As ATIs seem to be a contributing factor, research into their precise role may help to redefine non-coeliac gluten sensitivity.
“Rather than non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, which implies that gluten solitarily causes the inflammation, a more precise name for the disease should be considered,” Schuppan said.