Toxic chemicals and pollutants are all around us, including in our homes. There’s a lot we can do to minimize our exposure to them. 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, new research shows.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that leads to damage in the small intestine. It’s estimated to affect roughly 1% of adults worldwide and can lead to other health complications as well. Celiac disease has a genetic predisposition component to it but it’s generally believed to be triggered by the ingestion of foods containing gluten.
The research was published in the journal Environmental Research. The NYU Langone team concluded that both children and young adults with elevated blood levels of chemicals such as dichlorodiphenyldichlorethylenes (DDEs) and other common pesticide chemicals were twice as likely to be diagnosed with celiac disease.
The study also made other interesting revelations such as gender differences in the response to higher chemical blood levels. Females, who are the majority of celiac disease patients turned out to be even more susceptible to the disease if exposed to higher levels of toxic chemicals. According to the study, they were at least eight times more likely to become gluten intolerant.
Young adult females exposed to elevated levels of nonstick chemicals such as perflouoroalkyls or PFAs (e.g. Teflon) had a five to nine times increased risks of developing 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.
Study co-investigator and health epidemiologist Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP, the Jim G. Hendrick, MD Professor at NYU Langone, said that further studies are still needed to determine how exactly these toxic chemicals are related to celiac disease. He suggested that all these chemicals are known to disrupt the hormone levels in both humans and other animals. Trasande believes that this might be key to understanding the link between the chemicals and the disease as hormones are related to people’s sexual development and immune defenses against infection.
Up until now, researchers believed that celiac disease was almost entirely genetic and was just passed on from parents to their children. Trasande, who also works as a chief of environmental pediatrics in the Department of Pediatrics at NYU Langone and his colleagues now believe that exposure to toxins may play a much bigger role than they previously thought.
“Our study establishes the first measurable tie-in between environmental exposure to toxic chemicals and celiac disease,” said Jeremiah Levine, MD, senior study investigator, and pediatric gastroenterologist. “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.”
Trasande also expressed his hopes that further studies will soon be done about celiac disease and will confirm their findings. If this is shown to be conclusive, similar findings might be made about other autoimmune diseases as well.
It should be noted, however, that the NYU Grossman School of Medicine study didn’t include that many participants. The researchers analyzed the blood of 90 patients. 30 of them were children and young adults between the ages of 3 and 21. They were all diagnosed with celiac disease at NYU Langone Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital. The other 60 were young adults and kids of similar age and ethnic backgrounds but with no celiac disease.