Sunday, May 13, 2012

Gluten Allergy in Mothers Increases Risk of Schizophrenia / Psychiatric Disorders in Offspring

Are your Children at Risk?

Study Links Women's Gluten-Sensitivity During Pregnancy to Psychiatric Disorders in Children

I just finished reading about a rather concerning study from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and Johns Hopkins University (United States). We all know that there is a genetic component of Celiac Disease and heritability implications, but this new study goes beyond examining whether your offspring may end up with a gluten-sensitivity alone, and looks into the potential implications for lifelong mental-health in the offspring of women who are gluten-sensitive.

I would argue that the sample-group size was rather limited, as it only involved 764 birth records (and neonatal blood samples collected) between 1975 and 1985 and the patient followup since then. But, this data is still significant enough to merit further study and attention.

Researchers were looking at both casein (cow's milk protein) and gliadin (a gluten component-protein), and found the concerning mental-health correlations only when a mother produced antibodies to gliadin (gluten). The neonatal blood samples collected decades ago allowed researchers to determine whether a newborn had elevated IgG antibody levels at birth (thus, indicatating an immune response to gliadin proteins in the mother, since the mother's antibodies during pregnancy are essentially "shared" with the baby).

Double the Risk

This is the first study to point to maternal food sensitivity as a potential trigger for non-affective psychoses, and other psychiatric disorders later in life for their offspring. "Non-affective psychoses" refer to psychoses not related to emotions or moods (e.g., schizophrenia and delusional disorders) as opposed to affective psychoses (e.g., bipolar disorder, which does involve mood/emotion abnormalities).

211 of the children in this study subsequently developed non-affective psychoses. This was about twice the incidence rate as the standard population:
The results of the study show that children born to mothers with abnormally high levels of antibodies to gliadin [gluten] had nearly twice the risk of developing non-affective psychosis later in life, compared with children who had normal levels of gliadin antibodies. The risk for psychosis was not increased among those with elevated levels of antibodies to casein [milk]. The link persisted even after researchers accounted for other factors known to increase schizophrenia risk, such as maternal age, gestational age, birth by Caesarean section, and birth weight.

Should you be Concerned?

That is a tough question. I found myself thinking about all the people I know with Celiac Disease or any other strong reaction to gluten (wheat, rye, barley) proteins, and then I though about how many were female and how many of them have children. Even in my small circle of friends, family, and acquaintances, I can count a LOT of children of women with gluten allergies.

I could not help but wonder: are some of these children going to suffer some mental disorders later in life because of a gluten-allergy their mothers had? Wow, that is just something nobody wants to see happen, yet the statistics from this particular study sure raise concerns.

I do think follow-up studies will be important, and larger study-populations should be helpful too. The doctors running this study clearly feel the same way:
"There are studies in the past that show that people diagnosed with schizophrenia more often than others are suffering from various forms of immune responses to gluten. We will now conduct follow-up studies to clarify how gluten or sensitivity to it increases schizophrenia risk and whether it does so only in those genetically predisposed,"

I am looking forward to any further studies that shed more light on the details of the causal relationship between gluten allergies in women and the mental health of their children throughout life. This is certainly an important topic to any of us that come from bloodlines with gluten-sensitivity (especially on the mother's side of the family tree).

There are just tons of questions that come to mind that will hopefully be answered in the future. I think of things like: what about mothers that have kids prior to developing Celiac (i.e., I wonder if in their pre-Celiac-diagnosis years if they still had increased antibodies to gliadin without knowing), etc.  I also wonder if women with Celiac, but on a very strict gluten-free diet, still have enough antibodies present in their blood to still impart potentially negative inputs into their child during formation.  Many questions like this run through my head...

The study will be published in the June issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, and the summary I refer to was available here on Science Daily.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting and quite scary stuff. It does however, raise lots of questions.