Could some common food additives be contributing to coeliac disease?

The exact cause of coeliac disease – an autoimmune reaction to gluten – is uncertain. Recently, it has been suggested that the food additive microbial transglutaminase may be one of several contributing factors.

Specific mutations in the immunity-related gene HLA-DQ seem to be necessary for developing coeliac disease, since one of two HLA-DQ variants are present in most people diagnosed with the disorder. This gene, however, is insufficient to cause coeliac disease by itself – the same gene variants are also present in about 30 percent of the general population. 

Several environment factors, such as infections, food, toxins, vaccination, drugs, and surgery have also been proposed to contribute to the risk. According to the authors of a new review, microbial transglutaminase, a bacterial enzyme used in the industrial processing of meat, dairy, baked and other food products, is another likely contributor.

In 2015, the same authors put forward the hypothesis that microbial transglutaminase plays a role in the development of coeliac disease. Since then, they say more studies have been conducted to substantiate this hypothesis. They also maintain there is a direct positive correlation between rising use of industrial enzymes in bakery products and the rise in prevalence of coeliac disease in the last four decades.

Microbial transglutaminase is said to be widely used in foods to improve food texture, palatability and shelf-life given its ability to cross-link numerous molecules, including proteins. It belongs to the family of transaminases, and tissue transglutaminase has previously been identified as an autoantigen in coeliac disease.

In publishing their latest Open Access review, the authors aim to encourage further research to explore whether there is a causal relationship between microbial transglutaminase and coeliac disease plus determine any mechanisms and pathogenic pathways involved.

Reference: Torsten & Aaron 2018. Frontiers in Pediatrics DOI: 10.3389/fped.2018.00389