Oct. 18, 2004 -- The on-again, off-again relationship between people with celiac disease and oats may be off again.
For years, people with the chronic immune system disorder were told to avoid oats as well as wheat, rye, and barley.
The reason for the food ban: gluten, a form of protein found in some grains. Gluten may cause damage to the lining of the small intestine in celiac disease patients, leading to malnutrition and a host of other chronic medical conditions.
Oats fell back into favor when studies suggested they didn't cause the intestinal inflammation and symptoms seen in celiac disease after all. Now, the tide may be turning again.
Researchers in Norway studied nine adults with celiac disease who had eaten oats in the past. Four participants had symptoms of abdominal bloating or diarrhea. Three of those four patients had "intestinal inflammation typical of celiac disease at the time of oats exposure," write the researchers.
For instance, one participant was a 59-year-old woman who had had success with a standard gluten-free diet, the typical treatment for celiac disease. In 2000, she started eating oats and developed bloating, abdominal pain, and iron deficiency, as well as losing a little more than 4 pounds.
Tests of her small intestine showed inflammatory reactions seen only in patients with celiac disease. The woman stopped eating oats and her condition improved, say the researchers.
The researchers took great care to make sure the oats were not contaminated by other grains known to trigger celiac disease.
Tests of the small intestine in the other eight patients showed all had evidence of inflammatory reactions within the lining of the small intestine; however, not all of the participants had symptoms of intolerance to the diet.
The researchers say the results show some, but not all, celiac disease patients may not be able to tolerate oats.
Right now, the researchers aren't sure how often the problem occurs. More research is needed, they say.
The study appears in the October issue of the journal Public Library of Science.