Like Humans, Rhesus Monkeys React to Gluten and Respond to a Gluten-Free Diet

Humans aren’t alone in being sensitive to gluten and having symptoms including diarrhea, bloating, fatigue, depression and skin rashes and blistering. Rhesus macaques, a type of monkey, develop gluten sensitivity and these same gluten-related symptoms. They also recover when put on a gluten-free diet.

The most common cause of death in captive rhesus monkeys is chronic diarrhea. In a study published in the Public Library of Sciences journal, researchers found that the majority of these monkeys with diarrhea but without an infection were reacting to the gluten in their diet. In captivity, rhesus monkeys are fed a diet containing gluten, but gluten is not part of their diet in the wild.

Nearly all of the monkeys that had symptoms had elevated IgA anti-gliadin antibodies and the majority also had elevated IgG anti-gliadin antibodies, both of which are indicators of gluten sensitivity. Only a few tested positive for anti-tissue transglutaminase (anti-tTG) antibodies, a commonly used marker for celiac disease. When the animals were fed a monkey chow that was gluten-free, their blood antibody levels normalized and symptoms disappeared.

Study reference: Bethune MT, Borda JT, Ribka E, et al. A non-human primate model for gluten sensitivity. Public Library of Sciences, 2008;3(2):e1614.

Melissa’s comments:

Those poor monkeys! Humans feed them food with gluten when their natural senses keep them away from it in the wild! And look at the result: The vast majority of them develop gluten sensitivity and uncomfortable symptoms that disappear when they are fed a gluten-free diet.

Many people are becoming aware that eating gluten is contributing to a multitude of health problems for them, too. Although “standard” tests miss a large portion of the population that reacts to gluten but doesn’t have celiac disease, people are figuring out that they have gluten sensitivity on their own either through tests that they do themselves (such as the gluten sensitivity stool test offered by Enterolab) or by trying a gluten-free diet, which is free of wheat, rye and barley.

As if there was any doubt, this study confirms that gluten sensitivity is a real condition and not just in people’s heads. Investigators of the study conclude that rhesus macaques may be valuable for studying the development of gluten sensitivity and celiac disease. That may be so, but I hope the monkeys are put on a gluten-free diet relatively quickly so they don’t have to be uncomfortable for long. Any of us who have had strong reactions to gluten know how bad that can be!

To learn more about gluten sensitivity, read my article Is Gluten Sensitivity Derailing Your Health?” or my book Going Against the Grain.

© Copyright 2008 Melissa Diane Smith

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