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  • Jefferson Adams

    Gluten-free Diet Benefits Newly Screened Older Celiac Disease Patients

    Jefferson Adams
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    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Photo: CC--pedrosimoes7
    Caption: Photo: CC--pedrosimoes7

    Celiac.com 05/02/2012 - Doctors and researchers are still debating the usefulness of active blood screening for spotting celiac disease in older populations. Studies do suggest that many cases of celiac disease go undetected, especially in the older population. One unanswered question is whether screening does any good for older people who have been eating gluten many decades.

    Photo: CC--pedrosimoes7A team of researchers recently studied the clinical benefit of a gluten-free diet in screen-detected older celiac disease patients. The research team included Anitta Vilppula, Katri Kaukinen, Liisa Luostarinen, Ilkka Krekelä, Heikki Patrikainen, Raisa Valve, Markku Luostarinen, Kaija Laurila, Markku Mäki, and Pekka Collin.



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    They are affiliated with the Department of Neurology, the Department of Internal Medicine and the Department of Surgery at Päijät-Häme Central Hospital, and the University of Helsinki's Department of Education and Development in Lahti, Finland, the Department of Gastroenterology and Alimentary Tract Surgery the School of Medicine, and the Paediatric Research Centre at the University of Tampere and Tampere University Hospital, Tampere, Finland.

    For their study, the researchers evaluated the benefit of active detection and implementation of a gluten-free diet in elder populations with for celiac disease.

    The team evaluated thirty-five biopsy-proven celiac patients over 50 years of age, each of whom had celiac disease detected by mass blood screening.

    They looked at bone mineral density, dietary compliance, disease history, quality of life, and symptoms at baseline and after 1-2 years of a gluten-free diet. They also looked at small bowel biopsy, serology, laboratory parameters assessing malabsorption, and bone mineral density.

    Using surveys, the team established gastrointestinal symptom ratings and quality of life by psychological general well-being. The used this information to rate symptoms.

    They found patient dietary compliance to be good overall.  Initial tests on the patients showed reduced serum ferritin levels, pointing to subclinical iron deficiency. This trend reversed after patients followed a gluten-free diet.

    Initially low vitamin B12, vitamin D and erythrocyte folic acid levels increased significantly on a gluten-free diet.

    Patient histories showed that those with celiac disease had sustained more low-energy fractures, and sustained such fractures more frequently than the general population. A gluten-free diet brings with it a beneficial increase in bone mineral density.

    The team also noticed that many gastrointestinal symptoms disappeared, even though though many patients reported only subtle symptoms upon diagnosis.

    Quality of life remained unchanged. According to the study team, two out of three patients would have been diagnosed even without screening if the family history, fractures or concomitant autoimmune diseases had been factored in.

    Results showed that patients who had celiac disease detected by mass blood screen did, in fact, benefit from a gluten-free diet. For doctors evaluating older patients, the team advocates a high index of suspicion and active case-finding in celiac disease as an alternative to mass screening.

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    Celiac disease in older people should not be ignored. Seniors are people, too, not the worthless drain on tax dollars that some would have you believe. Not giving them proper health care is inhumane, and should not be tolerated. Even the elderly deserve the good quality of life that a gluten free diet will provide, if they have Celiac, gluten intolerance, or if they need to avoid food allergens.

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    Celiac disease in older people should not be ignored. Seniors are people, too, not the worthless drain on tax dollars that some would have you believe. Not giving them proper health care is inhumane, and should not be tolerated. Even the elderly deserve the good quality of life that a gluten free diet will provide, if they have Celiac, gluten intolerance, or if they need to avoid food allergens.

    I agree. I was diagnosed at age 59 and was anemic, had osteoporosis, low on calcium, elevated liver enzymes and kidney issues. All were cleared up when I went gluten free and actually started absorbing my nutrients. I have always said we are what we eat, drink, and breathe, but now I know we are what we absorb also. I think many of the ailments of gluten sensitive seniors could be alleviated through accurate diagnosis and a GFD.

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    I was diagnosed after 50. It is difficult for me to believe that treating or not treating celiac in the over 50 population is even a question to waste time and resources on. I'm in the medical field and it is "studies" like this that prompt me to wonder where medicine is going in this age, where members of the older population are treated as throw aways because their "youth" is gone. Seriously!! We have so much to offer. I find this article shameful.

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    Agreed! I was in my early 50's when I decided to try a gluten-free diet, and my state of health improved dramatically within a few weeks. Despite this, my doctor, who had been treating me for chronic bronchitis, gastritis, and a number of other symptoms, (with medicines that contained wheat starch, no less), to this day still thinks it's all in my head because he waited 3 years after the fact to test me for celiac and the results were negative, just as I told him they would be without a gluten challenge test. To say that a person with a disease should not treat it because of their age is simply antithetical - even when the doctors disagree. I, however, have become something of a cynic, and I seriously doubt our medical industry will respond in a positive manner while they're raking in billions of dollars treating the symptoms of a disease that can be easily and effectively treated and managed through diet alone.

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    First of all I was diagnosed at the age of 54 so do not necessarily consider myself "elderly" and yes there has certainly been a beneficial difference in my life with a gluten free diet. Second, I suspect that my mother may have had undiagnosed celiac disease as she had anemia from an unknown cause for many years and upon autopsy at her death, had severe osteoporosis. Screening for celiac disease may have picked up the reason for her anemia and certainly made a difference.

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    Dont ignore the over 50, I was 50 when I was diagnosed, had suffered with headaches plus other abnormalities, for 30 years! If I wouldn't have been diagnosed I would have been dead shortly after. I would of committed suicide, I couldn't stand the headaches. I am dealing with joint pain, cant get rid of that, only 54 years old. Don't Let us suffer...

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    Anyone who has a problem with celiac or gluten intolerance can benefit from becoming gluten free. Many symptoms of "aging" are nothing more than nutritional deficiencies which celiac definitely causes, and malabsorption also causes issues with the thyroid so most certainly seniors should be checked for celiac. Many people suffer from memory problems very similar to early Alzheimers when they are suffering from undiagnosed celiac, and those problems go away once on the gluten-free diet, so I can't help but wonder how many Alzheimer sufferers could actually benefit from becoming gluten free. Much more research into this issue needs to be done.

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    Guest Trish Llewelly

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    I have recently been diagnosed as celiac and I am 68 years old. My consultant wasn't entirely sure so he did more biopsies. I am so glad he did because 3 weeks after starting a gluten free diet I feel so much better. Thank heavens he persevered with me.

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    I was low on potassium and no iron age 77. Many test taken and results was need to be gluten free. Now 87 and strictly following celiac info I am doing fine. Strong heart and many other items has been helped. I believe that I was born with it as looking back I had a lot of the systems and just diagnose as a sick stomach. Test needs to be done on every one.

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    I was 75 when my doctor biopsied me and found it was celiac disease. I suffered for years and lost 49 pounds before he thought of celiac disease. I am now on a gluten-free diet and have gone from 103 to 115 lbs and am fine.

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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 2,500 articles on celiac disease. His coursework includes studies in science, scientific methodology, biology, anatomy, medicine, logic, and advanced research. 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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