Discoveries made in researching celiac disease have created new possibilities of understanding for other autoimmune diseases. These include some common, frustrating diseases and you have probably known someone suffering from one of them. Celiac disease sufferers share some innate traits with sufferers of type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Researchers currently believe people with these diseases have three things in common that may lead to their respective conditions: a genetic predisposition for a heightened immune reactivity, a leaky gut, and probably some external trigger that passes through their leaky gut into their highly reactive immune system.
One key difference, however, is that in celiac disease we know with some certainty what that external trigger is: gluten and its close cousins. Researchers aren’t yet confident they understand the trigger for these other conditions.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes, more clinically called Diabetes mellitus type 1 or colloquially referred to as juvenile diabetes, occurs when an individual’s immune system attacks beta cells responsible for creating insulin in the pancreas. This increases insulin in their urine and blood.
So when in celiac disease antibodies attack the villi along the intestinal wall, in type 1 diabetes antibodies attack a key functionality of the pancreas.
Diabetes mellitus type 1 can be fatal if left untreated.
In multiple sclerosis (MS), clinically known as disseminated sclerosis, the immune system attacks the nervous system. Unlike with CD and gluten, we don’t yet understand what triggers this attack. Over time, these attacks on the nervous system wear down the fatty myelin sheaths surrounding axons for the spinal cord and brain.
MS usually manifests itself in young adulthood and afflicts women more often than men.
Rheumatoid arthritis appears to be like CD in that people with specific genes seem to have an immune response that causes inflammation of various tissues, especially synovial joints.
While we still don’t know the exact trigger for rheumatoid arthritis, we have more ideas than we do for type 1 diabetes or multiple sclerosis. For example, cigarette smoking and hormonal changes appears to have a statistically significant effect on the occurrence of rheumatoid arthritis. Currently, some improvement of RA seems to occur with hormonal therapies, particularly in women near menopause.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Since scientists and researchers have only recently developed their hypothesis of the permeable intestine (leaky gut) being related to each of these autoimmune diseases, we don’t yet know what will come of this understanding. But the hope is that by eliminating one of the three factors associating these diseases and leading to autoimmunity (the body essentially attacking itself), namely the heightened immune reactivity, the leaky gut or the external trigger, they might be able to curb and even eliminate the symptoms of the fundamental disease.
Celiac disease provides some hope in this regard because when we eliminate the external trigger – gluten – we mostly eliminate the symptoms and effects of the disease.