Common chemical pollutants could be linked to celiac disease

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Elevated blood levels of toxic chemicals found in pesticides, nonstick cookware, and fire retardants have been tied to an increased risk for celiac disease in young people, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Research.

Researchers from the New York University (NYU) Grossman School of Medicine analyzed levels of toxic chemicals in the blood of 30 children and young adults, ages 3 to 21 years old, who were newly diagnosed with celiac disease at NYU Langone Hassenfeld Children's Hospital. Test results were compared with those from 60 other young people of similar age, gender, and race. People with genes HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8 are known to be at greater risk of being diagnosed with celiac disease. Other symptoms of celiac disease include diarrhea, fatigue, and anemia, the researchers said.

The research team found that children and young adults with high blood levels of pesticides, and with high levels of pesticide-related chemicals called dichlorodiphenyldichlorethylenes (DDEs), were twice as likely to be newly diagnosed with celiac disease as those without high levels.

The study also found that gender differences existed for celiac disease related to toxic exposures. For females, who make up many celiac cases, higher-than-normal pesticide exposure meant they were at least eight times more likely to become gluten intolerant. Young females with elevated levels of nonstick chemicals, known as perflouoroalkyls (PFAs), including products like Teflon, were five to nine times more likely to have celiac disease. Young males, on the other hand, were twice as likely to be diagnosed with the disease if they had elevated blood levels of fire-retardant chemicals, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs.

People with celiac disease have severe gut reactions, including diarrhea and bloating, to foods containing gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. The only treatment is a gluten-free diet, with no bread, pasta, or cake, according to Abigail Gaylord, MPH, lead investigator of the study.

Further studies are needed to demonstrate that these toxic chemicals are a direct cause of celiac disease, the researchers said.