Scientists have been speculating about a potential link between gluten and the severe psychiatric illness schizophrenia for decades (ever hear the term "bread madness"?), but they haven't found many clear connections.
However, a new study from scientists at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore report there is a link ... between antibodies to gluten in the mother and schizophrenia in her children.
The new study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, doesn't conclude that gluten antibodies in the mother cause schizophrenia in her offspring. But the research indicates that high levels of such antibodies in the mother may increase the risk of schizophrenia in her children.
The study examined 764 birth records and neonatal blood samples of Swedes born between 1975 and 1985. A total of 211 study subjects had documented schizophrenia and delusional disorders, while the rest were considered control subjects.
Using the blood samples, the researchers measured levels of IgG antibodies to milk and wheat. IgG antibodies are not considered specific to celiac disease (although they're frequently found in people with celiac), but can be used to detect immune system activity against gluten, such as might be found in non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Children whose mothers had high levels of IgG antibodies against wheat had nearly twice the risk of schizophrenia later in life, the study found. The risk of schizophrenia was not elevated for children of mothers who had high levels of antibodies against milk protein.
The research team already is working on follow-up studies to determine the mechanism behind the increased risk of schizophrenia, and whether that increased risk occurs only in people with specific genes.
For more information on schizophrenia and how it relates to gluten sensitivity and celiac disease, see my article Gluten and Schizophrenia.
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