The risk of developing celiac disease (the most extreme form of gluten intolerance) in young people seems to be associated with elevated blood levels of toxic chemicals found in pesticides, nonstick cookware, and fire retardants.
A new study from the NYU Grossman School of Medicine suggests that children and young adults with high blood levels of dichlorodiphenyldichlorethylenes (DDEs), a class of chemicals associated with pesticides, were twice as likely to be diagnosed with celiac disease compared to their peers. Celiac disease is an immune disorder that creates severe reactions in the gut to foods containing gluten.
Gender matters, too
“Our study establishes the first measureable tie-in between environmental exposure to toxic chemicals and celiac disease,” says senior study author and pediatric gastroenterologist Jeremiah Levine, MD.
“These results also raise the question of whether there are potential links between these chemicals and other autoimmune bowel diseases, which all warrant close monitoring and further study,” says Levine, a professor in the Department of Pediatrics at NYU Langone.
The team analyzed chemical levels in the blood of 30 children and young adults (aged 3 to 21), who were newly diagnosed with celiac disease at NYU Langone Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital. The results were compared to a similar analysis of 60 young people of similar age, gender, and race.
The authors report that men and women react differently to such exposure to toxins. Women make up the majority of celiac cases, they note, and the team found that they were eight times more likely to develop gluten intolerance following higher-than-normal exposure to pesticides.
Furthermore, young women with elevated blood levels of non-stick chemicals known as perflouoroalkyls (PFAs) — including Teflon — were five to nine times more likely to have celiac disease.
Young men with high blood levels of of fire-retardant chemicals polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) were twice more likely to be diagnosed with celiac disease.
The study didn’t establish a clear cause and effect relationship between these chemicals and celiac disease, but the authors note that they are all known to disrupt animal and human hormone levels, which are key to controlling both sexual development and immune defenses against infection. The authors call for more in-depth research on the topic.
Our understanding up to now is that celiac disease, which affects around 1% of the world’s population, is largely genetically-driven. However, if other studies support the results of this study, it could radically alter our understanding of this condition, alongside other autoimmune disorders.
The paper “Persistent organic pollutant exposure and celiac disease: A pilot study” has been published in the journal Environmental Research.