Italian team's discovery offers hope for celiac disease.
ROME (ANSA) - Help may be at hand for those suffering from a common form of gluten intolerance thanks to the Italian discovery of a molecule that fights the toxic effects of gluten.
The molecule, which naturally occurs in wheat, is a peptide that combats the danger posed by gliadin, the main gluten protein that triggers the effects of celiac disease.
"This peptide is not only non-toxic, it appears able to inhibit the autoimmune effect gluten causes in celiac sufferers," said Massimo De Vincenzi, who headed the research team at the Food Department of Italy's Higher Health Institute.
"This could mean a treatment other than cutting gluten out of diets - the only option available for sufferers until now".
Gliadin causes sufferers' immune systems to cross-react with enzyme tissue, creating an inflammatory reaction that prevents nutrients from being properly absorbed.
Although other studies have identified molecules that appear to have the same effect, this is the first to occur naturally.
"All the others have been artificially synthesized," explained De Vincenzi. "Furthermore, this molecule is naturally found in wheat - in other words, one of the cereals absolutely forbidden to those on a gluten-free diet".
The molecule, 10mer, cam be obtained from a protein fraction of wheat that is dissolved in alcohol.
It works by preventing lymphocytes from being activated and proliferating in the intestine of sufferers, which causes dangerous inflammation.
The study was carried out on a control group of ten children between the ages of three and 14, who had just started to show the classic symptoms of celiac disease but who had not yet switched to a gluten-free diet.
The researchers extracted mononuclear cells from the blood to test the effect of 10mer on gliadin.
Classic symptoms of celiac disease include diarrhoea, weight loss, fatigue, iron deficiency and stunted growth in children.
Some 55,000 Italians are gluten-intolerant while more than half a million suffer from the condition without being aware of it.
Recent estimates suggest that 1% of the global population suffers from celiac disease.
Gluten occurs in several cereals, including wheat, barley and oats. Sufferers of gluten allergies such as celiac disease have to eliminate a variety of products from their diet, including bread, pasta, biscuits, cereals, cured meats, beer and whiskey.
Gluten-based ingredients are also frequently used in unexpected products, such as chips, soups, sauces, crisps and ice cream.
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