Gluten free…science fiction or science?
I’ve written several articles on why gluten may not be a great idea for overall health. For example, last month I wrote about a researcher’s theory that a pesticide was causing an increase in celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Now, a new study using cell cultures provides another possible mechanism behind how gluten and dairy mess with our genes by modulating DNA methylation.
This study demonstrated that when the milk protein, casein and the wheat-derived protein, gluten were broken down, their resulting peptides had opioid activity. This created an effect on cysteine (an amino acid) uptake in cultured human neuronal and gastrointestinal (GI) epithelial cell line. Specifically, it induced CpG methylation, a form of silencing the genes’ expression.This resulted in changes in antioxidant status and methylation of specific gene regions.
What this translates to in non-geek language is that eating gluten and dairy may predispose susceptible individuals to inflammation and systemic oxidation. The researchers report:
These results illustrate the potential of milk- and wheat-derived peptides to exert antioxidant and epigenetic changes that may be particularly important during the postnatal transition from placental to GI nutrition. Differences between peptides derived from human and bovine milk may contribute to developmental differences between breastfed and formula-fed infants. Restricted antioxidant capacity, caused by wheat- and milk-derived opioid peptides, may predispose susceptible individuals to inflammation and systemic oxidation, partly explaining the benefits of gluten-free or casein-free diets. (1)
Here’s the science on the effects of methylation from Green Med Info for those interested:
The study found that the digestion of casein (a major milk protein) and gliadian (a wheat derived protein) releases proline-rich peptides with opioid activity which down-regulate cysteine uptake in cultured human neuronal and gastrointestinal (GI) epithelial cells via activation of opioid receptors. The subsequent decrease in cysteine uptake was associated “with changes in the intracellular antioxidant glutathione and the methyl donor S-adenosylmethionine.” S-adenosylmethionine is a primary mechanism through which the cells of our body silence the expression of genes in a process known as methylation. When S-adenosylmethionine levels are low, it can interfere with methylation and this has been observed in many pathological states, including numerous cancers, e.g. ‘global hypomethylation’ is observed in cells whose cancer genes (oncogenes) have been turned on. (2)
Considering that earlier this year researchers have demonstrated that gluten and casein peptides can cross-react with specific brain proteins [GAD-65 (Glutamic Acid Decarboxylase), Cerebellar peptides, MBP (myelin basic protein), MOG (myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein)], more evidence is mounting that how our bodies respond to certain foods has direct influence on our immunity, neurological system, and overall wellness.
What this translates into is that what we eat can have profound effects on our health. (For a full explanation of how gluten and wheat interact with our health, see this article. This can go in a positive direction as well.
For example, here are two recent studies that demonstrate how food can act like medicine:
1. Component in Broccoli May Help with Autism Symptoms
In a placebo-controlled, double-blind, randomized trial, 26 men aged 13-27 with moderate to severe ASD received the phytochemical sulforaphane which was derived from broccoli sprout extract, while 14 other subjects received an indistinguishable placebo for 18 weeks. Results were scored at 4, 10, 18, and at 22 weeks (4 weeks without treatment) . Effects on behavior of daily oral doses of sulforaphane were quantified by three widely accepted behavioral measures completed by parents/caregivers and physicians. (4-6) The authors reported:
Initial scores for ABC and SRS were closely matched for participants assigned to placebo and sulforaphane. After 18 wk, participants receiving placebo experienced minimal change (<3.3%), whereas those receiving sulforaphane showed substantial declines (improvement of behavior): 34% for ABC (P < 0.001, comparing treatments) and 17% for SRS scores (P = 0.017). On CGI-I, a significantly greater number of participants receiving sulforaphane had improvement in social interaction, abnormal behavior, and verbal communication (P = 0.015-0.007). Upon discontinuation of sulforaphane, total scores on all scales rose toward pretreatment levels. Dietary sulforaphane, of recognized low toxicity, was selected for its capacity to reverse abnormalities that have been associated with ASD, including oxidative stress and lower antioxidant capacity, depressed glutathione synthesis, reduced mitochondrial function and oxidative phosphorylation, increased lipid peroxidation, and neuroinflammmation. (4)
2. Curcumin to the Gut Rescue
Another recent study demonstrated how this golden spice modulated intestinal barrier function and resultant metabolic disease that is associated with circulating lipopolysaccharide (LPS) from Western diet-induced changes in gut microbiota in mice. (7-8)
Resilience=Nature and Nurture
It all comes down to our resilience and understanding that what we eat and what we think affects our health at the genetic level. In fact, a recent study in 7,500 adult twins showed how the two interact regarding even psychological resilience. (9)
So, we have a lot of power to modulate our health, and it does seem that we may have some good science on why avoiding gluten and certain healthy foods that are specific for our own needs may be one way to do this.
(1) Trivedi, M, Shah, J, Mughairy, S, Hodgson, N, Simms, B, et al. Food-derived opioid peptides inhibit cysteine uptake with redox and epigenetic consequences. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. October 2014. 25(10): 1011-1018.
(2) Ji, S.GreenMedInfo.com. Eating Wheat & Cow’s Milk Disrupts DNA Expression and Antioxidant Status. October 27, 2014. http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/eating-wheat-cows-milk-disrupt-dna-expression-antioxidant-status?page=2
(3) Vojdani A, Kharrazian D, Mukherjee PS. The Prevalence of Antibodies against Wheat and Milk Proteins in Blood Donors and Their Contribution to Neuroimmune Reactivities. Nutrients. 2014; 6(1):15-36.
(4) Kanwaljit Singh, Susan L. Connors, Eric A. Macklin, Kirby D. Smith, Jed W. Fahey, Paul Talalay, and Andrew W. Zimmerman. Sulforaphane treatment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). PNAS, October 13, 2014 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1416940111
(5) Johns Hopkins Medicine. Chemical derived from broccoli sprouts shows promise in treating autism. ScienceDaily. October 14, 2014. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141013152608.htm
(6) Feeney, N. Broccoli-Sprout Compound Could Help With Autism, Study Suggests. Time. Oct. 13, 2014. http://time.com/3503738/autism-broccoli-sprout-compound/
(7) Ghosh SS, Bie J, Wang J, Ghosh S (2014) Oral Supplementation with Non-Absorbable Antibiotics or Curcumin Attenuates Western Diet-Induced Atherosclerosis and Glucose Intolerance in LDLR−/− Mice – Role of Intestinal Permeability and Macrophage Activation. PLoS ONE 9(9): e108577. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0108577
(8) Weatherby, C. Curry Color Deters Drivers of Diabetes and Heart Disease. Vital Choice Newsletter. October 13, 2014.
(9) Psychiatric resilience: longitudinal twin study. Br J Psychiatry. 2014;205:275-282.