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Celiac.com 08/11/2010 - New studies from the United States, Europe and other Countries around the world indicate that the commonness of celiac disease has dramatically increased  in the last decade, possibly as much as four-times the amount seen in the 1950's. Most current studies show that celiac disease is prevalent in at least 1% of the general population.

To determine when the prevalence of celiac disease started to increase, researchers at the Mayo Clinic analyzed blood samples stored from Air Force recruits taken in the early 1950's, and compared them with blood samples from this decade. Expecting to see at least 1% of the samples come up positive for gluten antibodies, they were surprised to find the numbers were much smaller than anticipated. The results of these studies suggest that until the 1950's, celiac disease was extremely rare. From these findings, researchers determined that celiac disease is about 4 times more prevalent now, than it was in the 1950's, suggesting an environmental change to the grains happened in the 1950's.

While there are many documented statistics on diagnosed celiacs, there is new research revolving around “latent celiac disease”, or gluten sensitivity.  According to a study by Dr. Ludvigsson's team and as outlined in the Journal of the American Medical Association, latent celiac disease is defined by someone who has a "normal small intestinal mucosa but positive celiac disease serology," and is estimated to be prevalent in at least 1 in 1,000 people worldwide.

According to Dr. Ludvigsson's team mortality rates are higher for those with celiac disease and latent celiac disease than it is in the general population. Ten out of 1,000 people with celiac disease will die in a years time, compared to  approximately 7 in 1,000 people without the disease. Although, Dr. Ludvigsson emphasizes that while mortality and increased risk for other disorders are raised for those with celiac and latent celiac disease, "the absolute risk increase is very small."

Unfortunately,  celiac disease often goes undetected. In most countries at least 2/3 of people with celiac disease are undiagnosed. The reason for the high number of undiagnosed celiac's is because celiac symptoms vary widely from each other and can present in several ways. They can be asymptomatic (without symptoms), or classic symptomatic celiac (diarrhea, weight loss, failure to thrive, malabsorbtion, etc.), or non-traditional (osteoporosis, malignancy, depression etc.), making it difficult to accurately diagnose celiac disease. Many autoimmune disorders, specifically, autoimmune liver disease, thyroid disease, type 1 diabetes, and Addison's disease can be an indicator of celiac disease, and according to Dr. Ludvigsson, doctors should be evaluating patients for celiac disease for a variety of symptoms and disorders. 

There are alternative treatment strategies for gluten sensitivities currently underway, but to date a gluten-free diet is the only effective treatment for celiac disease. As such, Dr. Ludvigsson urges health practitioners to emphasize to their patients the importance of strict adherence to the gluten-free diet. Dr. Ludvigsson also stresses the significance of medical follow-up for celiac patients.

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