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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Celiac Disease Rates 20 Times Higher in People with Autism

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

      A new study links celiac disease to numerous other diseases, including nearly every autoimmune condition. It also shows that people with autism have rates of celiac disease that are 20 times higher than people without autism.

    Caption: Image: CC--Eli Christman

    Celiac.com 10/08/2018 - A new population based study reveals that celiac disease is associated with a wide range of medical conditions, including liver disease, glossitis, pancreatitis, Down syndrome, and autism, according to a database study of more than 35 million people.

    Moreover, people with autism have celiac disease at rates almost 20 times higher than in those without autism, reported lead investigator Daniel Karb, MD, a second-year resident at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. That raises the question of whether people with autism should be screened for celiac disease, and whether they might benefit form a gluten-free diet.

    "If you have a patient who is autistic and they have all these unusual symptoms, you might want to screen them for celiac disease," Dr. Karb told the World Congress of Gastroenterology last year. It is known that there are unusual symptoms of celiac disease, which include anything outside the classic symptoms of malabsorption, steatorrhea, malnutrition, abdominal pain, and cramping after eating, "but this is putting numbers to it," said Dr Karb.

    For their study, Karb and his fellow researchers used the Explorys database to pull health record data from 26 major integrated healthcare systems in the United States. Their search covered the period from 2012 to 2017. Of 35,854,260 people in the database, they found 83,090 with diagnosed celiac disease.

    Overall, the age-adjusted prevalence of celiac disease in that group was 0.22%, which is much lower than the 1% to 2% range previously estimated.

    Those numbers are not unusual, said Dr. Karb says that the researchers “don't think there are fewer people with celiac disease, just that it may be under-diagnosed.” The rates are, he says, “what you might expect when you screen asymptomatic people." 

    Overall, the team found a significant connection between celiac disease and 13 other autoimmune disorders, such as type 1 diabetes, Crohn's disease, and ulcerative colitis. Moreover, celiac disease is associated with every autoimmune disease the team looked at, except for primary biliary cholangitis, Dr Karb says.

    This is some pretty startling study data. We knew that celiac disease was linked to other autoimmune conditions, and there has been some surprising data about gluten-free diets helping patients with autism, but these numbers are enlightening. It seems that people with autism should definitely be screened for celiac disease, and placed a gluten-free diet, if tests confirm celiac disease.

    Stay tuned for more information on this important celiac disease topic.


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    Good article glad the researchers are pulling and analyzing this data, as many of us intuitively knew the connection to inflammation  and other AI's.

    Lastly, imho if the autistic child doesn't test gold standard for celiac, I hope a gluten elimination diet will be trailed. In general a food elimination trial is a good idea to rule in/ rule out any food causative inflammation issues which many not be a cure, but manage symptoms.

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    I think a lot of science now shows that autoimmune diseases, autism and immune dysregulation stems from an imbalance in gut microbia. 

    It is first the gut microbiome that is altered that leads to brain inflammation as well as an altered immune response; ie: attacking the body as foreign. 

    Science would do well to experienment with balancing gut bacteria in people with such problems. I believe this is where healing will take place. Early insults to gut flora by way of vaccines, antibiotics, environmental toxins and breast milk supplements (formula) all contribute to an unhealthy intestinal flora. 

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    autism cannot be diagnosed easily, I have a 5-year-old son with autism and this diagnosis took 1 year. We were with a lot of tests and different doctors, therapists for a year and it was a really difficult process for us. Now we continue to special education and speech therapy, he is very interesteed in some online games and I think it is beneficial to its development. Especially we use the otsimo application every day so that he learned some numbers and colors. I would like to share the app's website with you https://otsimo.com/en/. I hope it helps in your baby :)

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  • About Me

    Jefferson Adams is Celiac.com's senior writer and Digital Content Director. He earned his B.A. and M.F.A. at Arizona State University, and has authored more than 2,000 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in biology, anatomy, medicine, science, and advanced research, and scientific methods. He previously served as SF Health News Examiner for Examiner.com, and devised health and medical content for Sharecare.com. Jefferson has spoken about celiac disease to the media, including an appearance on the KQED radio show Forum, and is the editor of the book "Cereal Killers" by Scott Adams and Ron Hoggan, Ed.D.

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