Celiac disease in Italy … hit a person in a hundred

Only 20% of patients with celiac disease knows it, while the remaining 80% continues to ingest gluten through bread, pasta and desserts. Gluten is a protein complex that we find in wheat, barley and rye. It becomes dangerous only for those who are predisposed to celiac disease genes, especially those related to the immune system (DQ2 and DQ8), which serves to recognize foreign elements. It triggers so an excessive response of the immune system that attacks the small intestine, the immune response is an atrophy of the intestinal villi, transforming in this way the tangled forest of rods that allows us to absorb the nutrients ingested with food.

The damages are not limited to intestine; inflammation of the intestinal mucosa results in his response that affects the whole body, perhaps giving way to other diseases such as autoimmune diabetes (5-6% of people with diabetes is also celiac), anemia and iron deficiency, increased transaminases. So gluten must be eliminated from the diet. Some consequences of the elimination of gluten unfortunately cannot be irreversible, such as a severe osteoporosis caused by an untreated celiac disease. Doctors say, however, that the longer a child is breastfed, the lower is the risk of developing celiac disease. Acting on the protein called zonulin, it is possible to close the gates of intestinal permeability and restrict the flowing of gluten from the intestine to blood. The staff of the Celiac Center at the University of Chicago, led by pediatrician and gastroenterologist Stefano Guandalini, published in 2011 a study on magazine Nature, according to which the inflammatory reaction to gluten comes from the combination of a protein, interleukin-15, with acid retinoic, a derivative of vitamin A. For this reason, they suggest to prohibit celiac medications containing retinoic acid. Dr. Bana Jabri, a researcher at the Institute of Chicago, has won the 2010 Warren Prize for Excellence in Celiac Disease Research. Another talented Italian professor working in the field in the USA (University of Baltimore, Maryland) is Carlo Catassi, who also teaches at the Paediatric Clinic of the Polytechnic University of Marche.

(news published on Venerdì di Repubblica,  January 27 2012)