Popular food additives found in common items such as bread and cheese could cause coeliac disease, according to the review in Frontiers in Pediatrics.
Coeliac disease is not the same as intolerance, allergy or sensitivity to gluten. It is an autoimmune disorder where gluten triggers the immune system to attack the gut. Coeliac disease is a common, lifelong disorder which can seriously harm the health. It has been previously unknown what causes it. The new paper suggests that popular food additives could both cause and trigger these autoimmune attacks.
Contributing factors to coeliac disease
For 1 in 100 people diagnosed with the disorder, just a mouthful of bread could be enough to trigger an immune response that damages the small intestine and impairs nutrient absorption.
The exact cause of this autoimmune reaction to gluten is uncertain. Specific mutations in the immunity-related gene HLA-DQ seem to be necessary for developing coeliac disease, since one of two HLA-DQ variants are present in most people diagnosed with the disorder. This gene, however, is insufficient to cause coeliac disease by itself – the same gene variants are also present in about 30 percent of the general population.
Several environment factors, such as infections, food, toxins, vaccination, drugs, and surgery have been proposed to contribute to the risk. Recently, it has been suggested that food additives are one of these contributing factors.
What is Microbial transglutaminase?
Microbial transglutaminase, a bacterial enzyme used in the industrial processing of meat, dairy, baked and other food products, is a likely source contributing, according to the new review.
The co-author Aaron Lerner, a visiting professor at the Aesku.Kipp Institute in Germany, explained: “Microbial transglutaminase can glue together proteins, so it’s used to improve food texture, palatability and shelf-life. This enzyme functions like the transglutaminase produced by our body, which is known to be the target of autoimmunity in coeliac disease.”
According to the co-author Dr Matthias Torsten, there is a direct positive correlation between rising use of industrial enzymes in bakery products and the rise in the disease in the last four decades.
Lerner adds: “Ultimately all we have so far are associations between microbial transglutaminase and celiac disease. To test whether this enzyme causes or triggers immune damage in celiac disease will require experimenting with exposure in animal models, intestinal cell lines or biopsies. Until there is a clearer answer, we recommend transparency and vigilance with regards to labelling of foods processed using microbial transglutaminase.”