Thursday, January 29, 2009

Autoimmunity Issues? Have Some Worms!

Bored with the idea of swallowing billions of bacteria for better health?  Worm supplements may not be far behind!

One of the things often noted by celiac sufferers after going gluten-free is that when they do accidentally ingest some gluten the reaction is much worse than it was before.  One theory I've seen proposed as to why that is involves regulatory T-cells, or rather the lack thereof.  Like bouncers, these guys are responsible for making sure nobody burns the place down and everyone leaves by closing time.  The problem is that when people stop showing up at the club for a while, the bouncers get laid off, and when the crowds come back there's nobody around to keep them in check.  The idea of keeping them active by what appears to be the biological equivalent of a playdate seems intriguing.

It turns out that celiac disease (and perhaps other autoimmune disorders) might have something to do with these cells not working very well in the first place.  In the case of celiac this seems due to a genetic issue, though perhaps autoimmune disorders in general have been rising to prominence lately because that issue is exacerbated by a lack of immune system training due to rising standards of hygiene -- eating dirt by the spoonful as a kid shows our immune systems what a real threat looks like.  Lacking that exposure, we get a bit jumpy and xenophobic, perceiving threats where there are none.  The checks and balances meant to prevent that err on the side of caution out of ignorance, and we end up making much ado about nothing. 

(Snarky link aside, I certainly wouldn't want anyone sending me an envelope full of wheat flour...).

1 comment:

  1. I think I've watched an episode of House similar to that issue, where the patient keeps himself clean and germ-free all the time, that it caused his immune system to not develop properly.