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Summary

Background

Accelerated progression of atherosclerosis and increased cardiovascular risk have been described in immune-mediated disorders, but few data are available in coeliac disease.

Aim

To evaluate instrumental and biochemical signs of atherosclerosis risk in 20 adults at first diagnosis of coeliac disease and after 6–8 months of gluten-free diet with mucosal recovery.

Methods

We analysed total, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, triglycerides, homocysteine, C-reactive protein, folate and vitamin B12; ultrasound measurement of carotid intima-media thickness (IMT) and endothelium-dependent dilatation were both carried on at diagnosis and after gluten withdrawal. Twenty-two healthy members of the hospital staff served as matched controls for vascular examinations.

Results

At baseline, mean total and HDL-cholesterol (HDL-C) were both within normal range, while mean LDL-cholesterol concentration was slightly increased; diet was associated with an increment in total and HDL-C (68.2 ± 17.4 vs. 51.4 ± 18.6 mg/dL; P < 0.001) and a significant improvement in total/HDL-C ratio (3.05 ± 0.71 vs. 3.77 ± 0.92; P < 0.02). Mean plasma homocysteine was elevated and not influenced by diet. C-reactive protein significantly decreased with diet (1.073 ± 0.51 vs. 1.92 ± 1.38 mg/dL; P < 0.05). At baseline, in coeliacs, IMT was increased (0.082 ± 0.011 vs. 0.058 ± 0.012 cm; P < 0.005), while endothelium-dependent dilatation was decreased (9.3 ± 1.3 vs. 11.2 ± 1.2%; P < 0.05). Both parameters improved after gluten abstinence.

Conclusions

Adults with coeliac disease seem to be at potentially increased risk of early atherosclerosis as suggested by vascular impairment and unfavourable biochemical risk pattern. Chronic inflammation might play a determining role. Gluten abstinence with mucosal normalisation reverts to normal the observed alterations.