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Autism and the new Celiac Disease Link

Posted Jul 08 2009 10:50am

Kids of moms who have an autoimmune disease such as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and celiac disease have up to a three times greater risk for autism, according to a new study.

The first two have been linked in earlier research. But the surprise might be the last disorder, which is more commonly recognized as an intolerance to gluten. (Not “intolerance” as in: “I don’t want you in my club,” but as in “My body gets crampy and nasty and sick when I eat you.”)

Coincidentally, perhaps, there has been a four-fold increase in the incidence of celiac disease over the past 50 years.

Researcher William W. Eaton, chairman of the Department of Mental Health at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, said of the study,

This finding reinforces the suggestion that autoimmune processes are connected somehow with the cause of autism and autism spectrum disorder. This finding is on the pathway of finding the cause of autism.

There may be an overlap in the genetics of some of the autoimmune diseases and autism that would not be trivial. Autism is strongly inherited, but we don’t have the faintest idea where. But this may point a flashlight to areas of the genome that connect to autism.

He pointed out that these sensitivities might be factored in with environmental triggers.

Indeed, recently we’ve brought you news on various environmental factors in ASD. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals in plastic may play a part. PVC has been linked to autism. And there has been a longstanding belief that thimerosol, a mercury-laden preservative in many vaccines, was a culprit. Mercury is a known neurotoxin.

And we also must notice the UC Davis M.I.N.D. study that discounted better detection as the rise in cases of ASD. The researchers there said that chemicals we are exposed to are strongly suspected and should be studied further.

Currently, genetics research is given much more funding than environmental research in the ASD field, approximately 10 to 20 times more.

In this case, data was collected on 3,325 Danish children diagnosed with ASD. Data on family members with autoimmune diseases came from the Danish National Hospital Register.

Eaton said that those diseases provided a link, but not a definitive cause.

The increased risk for type 1 diabetes is a little less than two times, for rheumatoid arthritis it’s about 1.5 times and for celiac disease it’s more than three times. That’s enough to impress an epidemiologist, but not enough to make anybody in the general population start changing their behavior.


Image: Torley on Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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