Are chemical pollutants to blame for rising coeliac disease prevalence?

The number of people with coeliac disease around the world has increased rapidly over recent decades. As researchers look to understand why, one study has indicated chemicals found in non-stick cookware, pesticides and fire retardants may be involved.

A team of researchers at the US academic medical centre, NYU Langone, has found that children with elevated levels of these chemicals in their bloodstream were twice as likely to be diagnosed with coeliac disease than those with lower levels. Further studies are needed to establish the link between toxic chemicals and coeliac disease, and whether increased use of these chemicals is behind the rising number of coeliac disease cases. 

The study assessed levels of toxic chemicals in the blood of 30 children and young adults, ages 3 to 21, who had recently been diagnosed with coeliac disease. The results from this group were compared with those of 60 other young people of similar age, gender, and race.

The chemicals found in non-stick cookware, pesticides and fire retardants that were analysed in this study are known to interfere with human hormones involved with immune response.

The involvement of hormones may help to explain observed gender differences: Females with higher-than-normal pesticide levels in their bloodstream were at least eight times more likely to have coeliac disease, while those with elevated levels of non-stick chemicals were up to nine times more likely to have coeliac disease than those without high levels.

By comparison, males were twice as likely to be diagnosed with coeliac disease if they had high levels of fire retardant chemicals in their bloodstream.

Reference: Gaylord et al. Environmental Research 2020. DOI: 10.1016/j.envres.2020.109439

Additional reporting: See the press release on the NYU Langone website.