Gluten-free diet treatment has been proposed to prevent the development of autoimmune diseases in coeliac subjects. The aim here was to investigate the occurrence of autoimmune disorders in relation to gluten intake in coeliac patients in a well-defined area.
The frequency of autoimmune disorders was evaluated in 703 adults and children with coeliac disease and in 299 controls with normal duodenal histology. Incidence figures were given per 10,000 person-years. In logistic regression analysis, where the prevalence of autoimmune disorders was a dependent variable, the effect of age at end of follow-up, age at diagnosis of coeliac disease, actual gluten exposure time, gender and diagnostic delay were assessed.
The prevalence of autoimmune diseases was significantly higher in coeliac subjects than in controls. In logistic regression analysis, age at end of follow-up, age at diagnosis of coeliac disease and female gender increased the risk of autoimmune disorders, whereas actual gluten exposure time reduced the risk; diagnostic delay had no effect. A similar, though not statistically significant, trend was seen in childhood coeliac disease to that in the whole study group.
Despite that fact that patients with coeliac disease are at increased risk of various autoimmune conditions, the duration of gluten exposure seems not to be of crucial importance in the development of autoimmune diseases.