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Could Certain Chemicals Trigger Celiac Disease?

HealthDay News
by -- Robert Preidt
Updated: May 15th 2020

new article illustration

FRIDAY, May 15, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Toxic chemicals in a wide range of products are associated with an increased risk of celiac disease in children and young adults, researchers say.

People with celiac disease -- an immune disorder -- can't tolerate foods that contain gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley.

New York University researchers analyzed the blood of 30 children and young adults newly diagnosed with celiac disease and compared results with those from 60 other young people. The investigators found that elevated levels of toxic chemicals found in pesticides, nonstick cookware and fire retardants were linked to a higher risk of having celiac disease.

"Our study establishes the first measurable tie-in between environmental exposure to toxic chemicals and celiac disease," said senior study investigator and pediatric gastroenterologist Dr. Jeremiah Levine.

"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," Levine added in a university news release.

In the study, children and young adults with high blood levels of pesticide-related chemicals called dichlorodiphenyldichlorethylenes (DDEs) were twice as likely to be newly diagnosed with celiac disease as those without such levels.

Gender was an important factor in the link between toxic chemicals and risk of celiac disease.

Females -- who account for the majority of celiac patients -- with higher-than-normal pesticide exposure were at least eight times more likely to have celiac disease.

Females with elevated levels of nonstick chemicals called perfluoroalkyls (PFAs), which are found in products like Teflon, were five to nine times more likely to have celiac disease.

Males were twice as likely to have celiac disease if they had elevated blood levels of fire-retardant chemicals called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), according to the study.

The findings were published online May 12 in the journal Environmental Research.

Further research is needed to determine if these toxic chemicals are a direct cause of celiac disease since this study only showed an association, said study co-investigator and health epidemiologist Dr. Leonardo Trasande.

He noted that all the chemicals are known to disrupt animal and human hormone levels, which are crucial in sexual development and immune system function.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more on celiac disease.