Celiac Disease and Antibodies: The Inside Scoop

If you’re looking for information about antibodies, you probably already know that celiac disease is damaging your digestive tract, specifically your small intestine. The question is, why? What is it about gluten that makes someone with celiac disease sick, and what do antibodies have to do with it?

Different foods have different proteins in their makeup. Wheat, rye and barley contain a protein we call gluten, the catalyst to celiac disease (and the reason you’re reading this). Gluten is a two-part, “sticky” protein. Its stickiness, in fact, is one reason it’s used in baking: it allows for larger, fluffier baked goods.

Certain proteins are easier or harder for the human body to digest. Gluten, unfortunately, falls under the latter category. For someone with celiac disease, it’s toxic.

tTG and the Gliadin Mixup

Ready for a quick brush-up on biology?

During the digestive process, gluten is broken down by a digestive enzyme called tissue transglutaminase, or “tTG” for short, into its two components, glutenin and gliadin. (Remember gliadin, we’ll be coming back to it.) As food is digested, it’s also filtered by your immune system.

Think of the way your computer scans files for viruses. Files that appear safe are allowed to interact with programs. Files that appear dangerous, however, will be flagged. Of course, your computer’s antivirus software isn’t perfect, and sometimes, it will flag files that are perfectly harmless, but appear similar to other, infected files.

Here’s where we come back to gluten. If you have celiac disease, the immune system, your antivirus software, “flags” gliadin as a threat. Unlike your computer’s antivirus software, however, it can’t check with you on its safety, so it immediately begins producing antibodies to fight the gliadin in your system. While fighting the gliadin, however, your immune system also puts out a warrant of sorts on any lookalikes. Guess what looks like gliadin? That digestive enzyme, tTG. Suddenly your antibodies are attacking a vital part of your digestive system, one responsible not only for breaking down gluten, but also for keeping your gut lining healthy. Since your body is no longer sure which one is which, it will keep attacking both gliadin and tTG in your system. If you don’t stop eating gluten, it will keep on attacking until it’s destroyed both the gliadin and your gut. The warrant for gliadin and its tTG lookalike is literally, “dead or alive!”

Cooling the Antibodies

Since the element causing an antibody reaction is part of gluten, the only way to stop your body from destroying your tTG is to stop eating gluten, period. If you’ve been diagnosed with celiac disease, all grains with gluten are out. Your digestive tract takes time to heal, and your immune system will keep producing antibodies for a while, so no cheating, period!

For a more in-depth review of gluten and antibodies, check out Dr. Amy Myer’s post, “How Gluten Wreaks Havoc On Your Gut.” Unlike many doctors, Dr. Myers has an autoimmune disorder, and can talk about the results firsthand. She may convince you to stop eating gluten even if you don’t have celiac disease!



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