Perhaps you’ve read in my previous post (Eight months later) that in spite of staying gluten free I still suffer from multiple symptoms. My digestion system stays stressed. Besides having celiac I also have Hashimoto’s; therefore it’s not easy to find the cause of all my symptoms. Nevertheless, here is what I’ve found out so far.
Recently, I’ve read about cross-reactivity and I decided to look into it. Certain foods can mimic gluten in the body and cause a ‘glutening’ in spite of the fact that we do not consume any gluten. Apparently, the same antibodies that the body creates against gluten can recognize proteins in other foods as gluten (molecular mimicry). When you eat those foods, even though they don’t contain gluten, your body reacts to them as they were gluten. You can be completely gluten-free but still have symptoms, because your body thinks that you are still eating gluten.
Figure 1. Cross-reactivity. Source: ‘The gluten effect’ by Dr. Vikki Petersen.
According to some resources, the following products can induce cross-reactivity: dairy protein casein, chocolate, sesame, hemp, buckwheat, eggs, soy, sorghum, millet, amaranth, quinoa, corn, yeast, tapioca, teff, oats, coffee, potatoes, rice and whey. However, the opinions regarding cross-reactivity and celiac patients are divided. Some say that cross-reactivity is supported by science; others claim that it is not.
It is commonly known that very sensitive celiacs have to avoid protein from oats. I found a scientific publication discussing the effect of protein in another grain – corn, on people with celiac condition. The research shows that corn protein (zein) might cause similar reactions in celiac patience as gluten does. What is more, this paper suggests that products containing zein should not be certified as gluten free (ref).
An earlier study tested the effect of wheat and gluten free grains (corn and rice) on autoimmune reaction in celiacs. The gluten free grains were utilized in two different ways: using enzyme – microbial Transglutaminase (mTgase) and without use of mTgase. The results showed that patients reacted to wheat and mTgase treated grains, while no reaction was observed to the grains that were not treated with mTgase (ref). To conclude, it seems that it weren’t the gluten free grains that caused sensitivity at celiacs but the utilization process (which includes mTgase) was a cause of the autoimmune reaction. What I find disturbing is that some food additives used during manufacturing processes are not required to be listed on the ingredients list; and transglutaminase belongs to these additives. Also, it seems that there are contradicting results regarding the safety of corn.
The subject of mTgase and its effect on celiacs was further explored by other scientists. In 2014, it was published that structural changes (transamidation) of wheat protein induced by the enzyme suppressed the gliadin-specific immune response in intestinal T-cell lines in celiac patients (ref , ref ).
At first, the two different studies could be understood as somewhat denying each other. But, there is a huge difference in methodology. In the latter research only wheat gliadin were analyzed while the first report considers gluten free grains (corn and rice) utilized using mTgase. These are not exactly the same things! It worries me that the real effect of mTgase on celiacs is not yet fully understood.
New results don’t mean that old results are wrong or outdated; they only bring a new aspect to the issue and confirm that it is a complex subject. Especially, since the studies were not exactly the same. I would be happy to fully agree with the latest results saying that consumption of mTgase is safe for celiacs (it would be very convenient) but I cannot ignore that my intestine do not react well to products which do contain mTgase. Another possibility is that these products can have something else in common, apart of the presence of mTgase, which causes the sensitivity.
Science brings as many questions as answers. I clearly see space for further research regarding these issues.