Study: Gluten Sensitivity; “Celiac Lite Disease”, My Genetic Testing & More

Wow! According to an article in Reuter’s Health (July 29, 2016) written by Marilynn Larkin; a new study out of Spain by Dr Fernando Fernandez Banares found that a subset of patients with Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) may actually have “Celiac Lite Disease”.  A NCGS diagnosis is only given when a person is actively consuming gluten and test negative on Celiac Blood Panel and intestinal biopsy (showing normal villi..no damage or atrophy to the villi).  If you have not had these specific tests done and just went off gluten, you don’t know if you are Celiac or not and that is dangerous..especially if you get minimum exposure to gluten via cross contamination!

As I was taking this all in, I thought about so many customers, friends and family members who are in this situation. I wanted to share this study with all of you who tested negative for Celiac and have NCGS, those of you who have not had genetic testing or have not had their skin rash biopsied for Dermatitis Herpeteformis (Celiac disease showing on skin only). I also share the results of my genetic testing for Celiac Disease.

  1. Study findings of Dr Banares: 

“… these patients (the 91%) were characterized by gastrointestinal clinical symptoms within the clinical spectrum of celiac disease, presence of HLA-DQ2/8+, Marsh stage 1 lesion (increased intraepithelial lymphocytes but no villous atrophy), and a clinical and histological response to a gluten-free diet, the question remains as to whether this condition should be considered a ‘minor’ or ‘low-grade’ celiac disease (also called ‘celiac lite’ by some authors) or NCGS.” 

 “Previous studies have shown that the intraepithelial lymphocyte (IEL) count and/or the presence of anti-transglutaminase (TG2) deposits in the mucosa are biomarkers of celiac disease. In the present study, these tissue celiac markers were present in around 55% of patients at inclusion, despite their being on a gluten-free diet, suggesting a ‘celiac lite’ disease.”

Previous studies of celiac disease with (villous) atrophy have shown a permanent increase in IEL, even after a gluten-free diet, (suggesting) that this marker may provide a clue for celiac disease diagnosis and offering the possibility of identifying celiac disease patients when they are on a gluten-free diet, even when histological examination of the biopsy shows recovered mucosa.”

“This ‘proof of concept’ study suggests that there is a ‘minor’ form of celiac disease with negative celiac serology that should be taken into account in the differential diagnosis of NCGS. The presence of increased IEL count and/or TG2 deposits in the mucosa could be of help in the diagnosis of these patients. We are routinely using this diagnostic strategy in our outpatient clinic, and we think that the intraepithelial lymphogram study adds important information to the diagnostic work-up of these patients. Our recommendation is to use it in clinical practice”.  Click Here for Full Article

2. GENES: This stuff is simply amazing and easy to understand! (Who should get genetic testing? See graphic at the end.)

In the study above they looked at those who have genes that predispose them to Celiac. Those genes are HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8; found on Chromosome 6. (However, there are more than 40 genes that contribute to Celiac Disease via different versions of HLA DQ2 and HLA DQ8 genes).  The risk is definitely lower but having a full Celiac genetic blood test ordered by a Gastroenterologist is something worth doing. Cheek swab testing is not capable of testing for this! The full Celiac Genetic Testing is a specific blood test that will look at all of the alleles/versions of DQ2 and DQ8 that you carry which contribute to the development of Celiac Disease. So, which genes are we talking about?

“Susceptibility to CD is linked to certain human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class II alleles, especially in the HLA-DQ region. HLA molecules are postulated to present gluten antigens to T-cells which in turn induce tissue damage.2 Approximately 95% of patients with CD have the HLA-DQ2 heterodimer encoded by the DQA1*05 and DQB1*02 alleles, while close to 5% have the HLA-DQ8 heterodimer encoded by theDQA1*03 and DQB1*0302 alleles.1 Rarely, patients will carry only one of the DQ2 alleles; ie, eitherDQA1*05 or DQB1*02.3 The HLA-DQ alleles are also found in 48% to 65% of first-degree relatives of patients with CD and up to 73% of patients with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus; thus, these individuals are at increased risk of developing CD.1 Other high-risk groups include those with autoimmune thyroiditis; Down, Turner, or Williams syndrome; selective IgA deficiency; or individuals with symptoms of unexplained iron deficiency anemia or premature-onset osteoporosis.”  Click here for Genetics Info

So, 95% of Celiacs have gene HLA DQ2.  However, there are hundreds of different versions (alleles) of those genes.  Meanwhile; 5% of Celiacs have different versions of those genes that can definitely lead to Celiac Disease; although the chances are smaller.  As usual, I will use myself as an example and share my genetic test results below.

After my brief gluten challenge, I had positive intestinal biopsy (showing villous atrophy) and negative blood test for Celiac. I also have Hashimoto’s Disease  (Autoimmune Thyroiditis that is most often found in those with HLA DQ2). I also had many severe vitamin deficiencies and other autoimmune diseases (many autoimmune diseases run in my family).

I was really curious about my own genetic makeup. Last month my gastroenterologist ordered the full Celiac Genetic Blood work. (Cheek swabs don’t do this type of work up..it can only be done via blood work). My long time doctor thought that I would definitely have both DQ2 and 8 based on my medical history. He was very shocked at the results when he called me!

In my case, I did not have the straight up HLA DQ2 or DQ8 genes, but I had other alleles (versions) of those genes that can lead to the development of Celiac Disease. When combined they can form the “perfect storm” scenario. Given the results of the genetic testing; I was confused, was I still a Celiac? The chances were smaller (it was 1 in 2,000) but it is likely, based on genetic testing and the versions of the genes that I carry. Along with a biopsy showing villous atrophy, clean biopsy two years later and autoimmune thyroiditis (seen in those with HLA DQ2) and other health issues that I have. Basically, a “perfect storm” has to form and I most likely formed it. My doctor and I will go over results in more detail when I see him next.  You might ask, does it mean that I can go out and eat gluten…..absolutely not, I am still considered a Celiac!  (My doctor thought I would carry both genes straight up but the full genetic work up made sense) See graphic below of those who should have HLA Genetic Testing Done.

3. DH: Your Celiac Diagnosis is hiding in a skin rash; often misdiagnosed as Eczema.

Often a person with DH (Dermatitis Herpeteformis) will test negative on blood tests and intestinal biopsy  and nobody is looking at their skin rash!  So many Celiacs get missed this way.  Those who are tested have a skin biopsy that tests positive for the disease. If you have the skin manifestation of Celiac Disease (DH); which I had, the rash can be biopsied and tested for Celiac Disease.  15-25% of those with Celiac Disease also have the DH rash.

DH can show up anywhere..in the mouth, nose, scalp, arms, legs, face, abdomen, ankles, genitals, etc. I had a raging case of DH and the worst was on my scalp. I was sent to the top dermatolagist at NIH back in the early to mid 80’s and he could never figure it out.  I took steroids, I applied steroid creams and nothing worked. He never took a biopsy of the rash and never considered food (gluten) being a cause.

Finally, when my gastroenterologist said the words “Celiac Sprue” and I went off of gluten..the rash went away..it took about 8 months for it to clear up. If I have an accidental glutening, it returns and takes 8 months to fully clear up.  If I get glutened again I get 8 more months of this rash. It keeps piling on..so if someone keeps getting gluten in their system, the rash does not go away. For me, the severity of my DH depends on how much gluten I accidentally ingested.   Currently they don’t know why some Celiacs only damage on their skin and not in their intestines and more research is needed in this area.  See a gastroenterologist well versed in Celiac Disease first and they will refer you to someone who can do the biopsy correctly (it is very specific and must be done by someone who has done it before and knows what they are doing)! Click here for info on DH

Clearly, this shows that there is so much they still don’t know about Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity.  Please support those who are actively working towards solving the puzzle such as the Center for Celiac Research at Mass General! Click Here for Center for Celiac Research

HLA Testing graphic

 

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