Although reoviruses do not generally make people ill, a new study led by Dr. Bana Jabri director of research at the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center contends that the relatively “harmless” bugs may not be as banal as previously believed, and actually be responsible for causing Celiac disease by “tricking the immune system into thinking gluten is a harmful invader (in the small intestines) that needs to be attacked.”
As time goes by this reaction causes inflammation that damages the villi in the lining of the small colon and makes it impossible for the body to absorb various nutrients including calcium and vitamin D, selenium, copper, zinc, iron, folic acid and vitamin B12, which may lead to brittle bones and anemia, etc. In addition, some patients also experience abnormal bleeding due to due to a severe lack of vitamin K.
“This is the first study to show that a virus can change the way our diet is seen by the immune system,” Jabri told ABC News.
In a joint effort, scientists at the University of Chicago and University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; the University of Naples, Italy; Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, Netherlands; Massachusetts General Hospital; Harvard Medical School; the Broad Institute at MIT; the University of Montreal; and Stanford University, came to their conclusions after finding that mice infected with reoviruses developed a “ super-charged immune system response when fed gluten, causing them to experience more of the inflammation specific to Celiac disease,” while the immune system of uninfected rodents had much milder responses to gluten.
The researchers found like results in human trial subjects as well and noted that individuals with the Celiac disease had more antibodies to reoviruses in their blood as opposed to compared to healthy people. They also were found to have more of the Celiac disease inflammation due to the higher rate of these antibodies.
Whether a person was infected with reoviruses at some point in the past could explain why they develop Celiac at a certain age or had worse symptoms compared to others who were not infected, Jabri continued.
According to health officials, Celiac Disease currently affects 1 in every 133 people in the US (not to mention 1% of the total population worldwide). In the meantime, there is no cure, and the only truly effective treatment is for afflicted patients require changing their diets to avoid all wheat products and foods with gluten such as those made with spelt, semolina, rye, spelt, malt, graham flour, farina, durum, bulgur, triticale, and barley.
However, being able to determine who may be most likely to develop the disorder, and possibly being able to create a vaccine against reoviruses responsible for triggering it may be the answer to putting an end to Celiacs in future generations. This is especially important for kids under 12- months old.
“During the first year of life, the immune system is still maturing, so for a child with a particular genetic background, getting a particular virus at that time can leave a kind of scar that then has long-term consequences,” Jabri stressed. “