Page last updated at 11:19 GMT, Tuesday, 21 April 2009 12:19 UK

Gluten 'link' with schizophrenia

UHI researchers
Members of the UHI research team studying schizophrenia and diabetes

Researchers believe gluten-rich foods could help trigger schizophrenia in people with a genetic predisposition to the mental condition.

The protein is found in cereal grains which are used to make bread and pasta.

Scientists at Inverness-based UHI have been studying the role of gluten in schizophrenia and diabetes and also links between the two illnesses.

The researchers said sufferers' bodies were unable to handle gluten resulting in damage to healthy tissue.

Two projects investigating the links between schizophrenia and diabetes and the part played by gluten were being run at UHI, the prospective University of the Highlands and Islands.

A simple change in diet might prevent these diseases developing in some individuals
Prof Ian Megson

It has been supported by a £300,000 funding grant from the Schizophrenia Association of Great Britain (SAGB)

Prof Ian Megson, head of the UHI department of diabetes and cardiovascular science, said: "This research is at an early stage, but if the theory is correct and those at risk are identified very early in life, a simple change in diet might prevent these diseases developing in some individuals."

Dr Jun Wei, a senior researcher and reader in genetics, said an individual's inherited genes, together with factors from the environment in which they have lived, were now considered to be central to development of both schizophrenia and diabetes.

He added: "Gluten is one such environmental factor.

"More than 30% of schizophrenia sufferers have high levels of antibodies against wheat gluten in their body so a gluten-free diet might help to reduce the symptoms of this mental condition.

"We are also investigating if gluten acts as a trigger for schizophrenia in people who have a genetic predisposition to it."

Last year, researchers at UHI and other institutions began trying to better understand how eating porridge, oatcakes and muesli could help people with type 2 diabetes.

Sixty volunteers were sought to eat an oat-rich diet in trials.

Scientists based in Inverness and Aberdeen believed the cereal could help control the side effects of type 2.

These side effects can lead to killer illnesses including heart disease.

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