Genetic response to gluten
PROF Dr Manmohan Yadav ( pic), an allergist specialising in gluten allergy, has been researching the topic for nearly 40 years.
The doctor who is attached with Pantai Medical Centre in Kuala Lumpur explains that there are three categories of gluten allergy that people need to be aware of. n For more information on gluten allergy, go to www.allergycentre.com.my.
Called Celiac disease, it is a person’s genetic constitution that makes them unable to process gluten. Therefore, gluten becomes toxic to their bodies and causes damage to the mucosa surface of the intestine.
“Absorption of nutrients is hampered and the person becomes malnourished because food is not digested and absorbed,” says Dr Yadav.
The symptoms are blood in stool, upset stomach, diarrhoea. Because damage is done to the intestine, their growth doesn’t follow the normal patterns.
Diagnosis is via endoscopy, copy , which can detect damage to the mucosa lining.
Allergy to gluten
This allergy to the gluten protein can happen to children and adults. It goes away if gluten is avoided.
Food that contains gluten triggers a reaction that produces an antibody called Immunoglobulin E (IgE).
The IgE antibodies stick to the mast cells in skin and mucosal tissue, and basophils (found in blood circulation), and the person is now sensitised.
The next contact with the allergen (in this case, gluten) will cause the mast cells to release histamine, which leads to symptoms.
The good news is that once you stop taking gluten, the IgE antibody drops.
“After a while, when the antibody level is very low (this will take a period of up to two years), you can start taking gluten again,” says Dr Yadav.
This hypersensitivity to gluten is a metabolic reaction to gluten, and has nothing to do with the immune system. This is prevalent in children with autism.
What happens is that certain enzymes are missing in the bodies of autistic children. These enzymes are needed to break down protein into polypeptides, then peptides, then amino acids.
When the enzymes are lacking, peptide is taken into the body, which becomes a toxic compound. This happens with gluten.
The structure that is absorbed into the body is similar to morphine – gluteomorphin. This structure starts accumulating in the body, and goes into the brain.
They interfere with the endormorphines in the brain, and cause behavioural changes such as hyperactivity and tantrums.
There is no cure for hypersensitivity to gluten. About 70% of autistic children have this hypersensitivity to gluten. They need to be diagnosed correctly.
“Some parents are misled into thinking their (autistic) child is allergic to gluten, and therefore take them for allergy tests, which are not necessary. It is a genetically predisposed condition, and the only way is to avoid gluten,” says Dr Yadav.
He usually tells parents of autistic children to have their child avoid gluten for six to eight months, and observe them. If it is beneficial, then he will tell them to have the child avoid gluten for life.
Foods to avoid
If you’re allergic to gluten, avoid wheat, rye and barley.
Recent findings say oats contain gluten. But upon further investigation not much gluten is found in oats.
So perhaps it’s contamination during planting, processing or packaging. But people who are gluten-intolerant are avoiding oats as well.