OatsSMALLERThis week, new research on oats and celiac disease.  The study investigated why some celiacs have an immune response when eating oats.  Specifically researchers looked into avenin, a protein found in oats.

The research is published online this month in the Journal of Autoimmunity.  Melinda Hardy, Ph.D. of Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne, Australia and one of the authors of the study, explained the point of the research  in an email interview with The Savvy Celiac, “Our study was designed to answer whether immune responses to these avenins occur in people with coeliac [sic] disease, and if so, what is the basis for this.  The study was not designed to test whether oats is ‘safe’ for people with coeliac disease.”

As a side note, in the US, we have determined that certified gluten-free oats are okay to eat, but in Australia, oats are still excluded from gluten-free diets.

In the research, 73 people in the test were given a variety of oats, some of the oats consumed were what Hardy called “wheat contamination free oats”.

Avenin is a protein, Hardy says, found in all oats, but the small fragments, a.k.a. peptides (“compound of two or more amino acids in which the carboxyl group of one acid is linked to the amino acid group of the other” source: dictionary.reference.com), found within, may differ based on the variety of oats.

Hardy’s study reported immune responses in 8 percent of the patients tested.  “These were always tested against similar peptides in avenin protein,” Hardy said.

“Interestingly,” added Hardy, “the peptides were similar to some that can be found in barley, and when patients ate barley, the same oats-specific immune response was detected and it was detected in more individuals.”  Hardy said, “this suggests the immune response to oats can occur, albeit quite uncommonly, and is due to the fact that portions of oats proteins resemble barley.”

So why does this matter?  Hardy says more research needs to be done to determine the significance of the immune response, effect of different oat varieties and doses of oats.

ImmusanT, Inc., a US company working on a vaccine for people with celiac disease to tolerate gluten again, was involved in this study.  ImmusanT’s chief scientific officer, Bob Anderson, M.D., Ph.D. said in a news release issued by ImmusanT,  “Our study highlights that eating oats can have immune-activating effects similar to barley, and that future treatments for celiac disease will need to address gluten proteins that may not be present in wheat alone.”

Bear in mind, this study is not saying that gluten-free oats in the US are unsafe, but rather it is possible for some people, oats can cause an immune response.  The topic needs further research.

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