I know that this title sounds very boring (so much so that I doubt that many will read any further than this). But, if you can bear with me, there is some fascinating research involving the role of the innate immune system in reactions to wheat. Trust me!
The role of the immune system is to fight infection. There are two main types of immunity: innate and adaptive. The adaptive immune system is highly evolved and involves antibody formation. The ability of our bodies to “remember” previous infections and respond to vaccines depends on adaptive immunity.
The innate immune system, on the other hand, is our first line of defense against bacteria and viruses. It is primitive, exists in all plants and animals, and does not involve antibody formation. The innate immune system is made up of different types of white blood cells, including neutrophils, monocytes, basophils, and mast cells (see picture above). When confronted with an “invader,” these cells release chemicals, called cytokines, which cause widespread inflammation.
The traditional teaching is that autoimmune diseases involve the adaptive immune system, as antibodies are created against one’s own tissues and organs, called “autoantibodies.” For example, in Celiac Disease antigliadin antibodies and tissue transglutaminase antibodies (TTG) are created. However, recent research has shown that the innate immune system may also be involved in the “gluten reaction” experienced in Celiac Disease.
Alpha-amylase/trypsin inhibitors (ATIs) are “pest-resistant” molecules found in wheat and other cereals and grains, such as corn and soy. A team of researchers from Boston and Germany have recently discovered that wheat ATIs trigger an innate immune response, with a release of pro-inflammatory cytokines from monocytes, macrophages, and dendritic cells, when they come into contact with human intestinal cells. They were surprised to find that inflammation occurred when wheat ATIs came into contact with cells from all of the subjects (both with and without Celiac Disease). I find this to be both fascinating and scary.
I am curious to see if those of us with Celiac Disease who seem to be “super sensitives” may actually have a stronger innate immune reaction to wheat than other Celiacs. I am also wondering if the innate immune system plays a role in why so many of us with Celiac Disease develop additional food sensitivities with time and/or feel like we get “glutened” from gluten free foods from time to time. The fact that other grains contain ATIs, and hence, can likely trigger an innate reaction, may explain why so many of us feel our best when we are on a Paleo, or at least “grain-light,” diet. Finally, I hope that this information will stimulate research into the mechanism of non celiac gluten sensitivity, which so many suffer from.
For more information on this subject I suggest the following:
1. Gliadin Triggers Innate Immune Reaction in Celiac and Non-Celiac Individuals. Celiac.com webpage. 12/31/2012.
2. J Exp Med. 2012 Dec 17;209(13):2395-408. doi: 10.1084/jem.20102660. Epub 2012 Dec. Wheat amylase trypsin inhibitors drive intestinal inflammation via activation of toll-like receptor. Junker Y, Zeissig S, Kim SJ, Barisani D, Wieser H, Leffler DA, Zevallos V, Libermann TA, Dillon S, Freitag TL, Kelly CP, Schuppan D. Division of Gastroenterology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02215, USA.
3. Researchers believe pest resistance molecules in wheat play role in triggering innate immune responses. National Foundation for Celiac Awareness website. 12/31/2012.
4. Natural “Pesticides” in Wheat: Is There a Role in Gluten Sensitivity and Celiac Disease? By Peter Olins, PhD. December 19, 2012.