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  • Jefferson Adams
    Jefferson Adams

    Is Celiac the World's Greatest Disease?

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.

    Celiac.com 01/07/2013 - In a recent article for Mindbodygreen.com, James Maskell, calls celiac the "world's greatest disease."

    Why does he say this? Mainly because celiac disease cannot be cured or treated with pills or other standard methods. Because avoiding wheat, rye and barley is the only way to heal celiac-related damage to the gut, celiac disease helps drive home the importance of diet and nutrition in treating and preventing numerous other diseases.

    Photo: CC-- Leo ReynoldsThink about it. Numerous diseases, even those like heart disease or diabetes, which often have strong associations with poor diet, lack of exercise, etc., are treated, if not cured, with medical procedures and pharmaceutical drugs.

    It is a rare medical reality for a treatable disease to resist drugs and external cures, and for the only effective treatment to be a permanent dietary change.

    In every case of celiac disease, the treatment and cure come solely from the patient taking responsibility to avoid gluten, and to eat food that promotes gut health. This reality alerts people to the fact that certain diseases can be ameliorated or even cured by lifestyle and diet changes.

    That is why Maskell calls celiac disease the greatest disease in the world.

    Forgetting for a moment the more extreme cases, and the benefits of some conventional treatments, think of how different treatments for other diseases might be if a change of diet was the only option.

    Imagine if dietary change was the only viable option for diet-related heart disease. How many people might nip it in its infancy and reverse or control their heart disease before it ever became severe enough to require drugs or surgery?

    Think how different the food landscape in America would be if doctors told patients with diet-related heart disease and diet-related pre-diabetes that a change of diet was the only option.

    When doctors have to tell patients that the only solution to their disease is a dietary shift, the doors open for "awareness of integrative or functional approaches to health."

    Given that many of the growing health epidemics (obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, etc.) in America have strong dietary components, will celiac disease promote a greater awareness and stronger reliance on the role of diet in treating disease? We can only watch and hope. And, according to Maskell, if we are one of the several million Americans with celiac disease, we can count our blessings.

    Do you have celiac disease? Do you agree with John Maskell's view? What has celiac disease taught you about the relationship between diet and good health?


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    No complaints about the quality of the writing, but I, too, find the idea that celiac disease is "great" very offensive. I'm 54 and apparently have had it my entire life, but only got diagnosed a few weeks ago. Who knows what damage it has done to me? My 3 young adult children all have symptoms as well and have gone gluten-free.


    It is expensive to buy the gluten-free baked products. It's difficult to eat with other people or in restaurants. Having food allergies as well, I find the recipes that are gluten-free are also full of yummy herbs, spices and other foods that I cannot eat. Is that great? I'm not feeling it.


    And lastly, by saying that people can completely control this, the author by default lays the blame squarely on the person with celiac disease if they have continued symptoms or cannot get it under control. I'm diligent about trying to be 100% gluten-free, but last week I inadvertently used a can of broth that had gluten in it. If I'd bought the same brand, same broth in a box instead of the can, it would've been gluten-free. But not having an encyclopediac memory (hello brain fog) I bought the wrong broth. The response when I called the manufacturer was that they hadn't labeled it as gluten-free. True, but they also didn't label their gluten-free brands as gluten-free either. Nor did they add "contains gluten" to any of their products. Some contain gluten, some don't. No labeling to help us out in the stores.


    My genes are not my fault. If I can't get my antibodies to zero, it's not for lack of effort, commitment or education. It's just difficult and that author's implication that it's easy to do is insensitive.

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    Maskell's suggestion that Celiac is "the greatest disease in the world" is not offensive; there is much truth to what he says. At least you don't have to medicate yourself daily. It does, though, require more effort on your part to be more personally involved in your diet.

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    Thank you for letting the celiac community know about Maskell's article. What an offensive idea. Those of us with celiac disease don't find it "great." The disease destroys our bodies and often our minds. Doctors tout a gluten-free diet as a cure, but many of us have continuing symptoms because we have developed intolerances to additional foods, because food manufacturers and restaurants don't clearly label food that contains gluten, and because cross contamination is almost impossible to avoid. Also, it can be difficult to get all of the nutrients you need on a gluten free diet.


    Yes, the medical profession and society in general need more education about nutrition. But Mr. Maskell, please don't trivialize celiac disease by praising it as a wonderful way to educate people about nutrition. It's a serious, life-altering disease.

    I agree, Laura. Celiac disease is not cured by a pill, thus there is no money to be made from pharmaceutical companies. My doctor actually told me when I was first diagnosed, "You are lucky that you have celiac, it's the easiest disease," and just handed me a pamphlet and said to avoid gluten. I have been following the diet religiously and I am now ready for my 5th endoscopy; I have had so many complications from this. It effects not only your body but your emotional well being.

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    While it is true that having celiac disease makes you very conscious of your diet, it is also one of the most difficult things I have ever tackled. It is isolating because it is so difficult to partiicpate even in family dinners. Being able to safely eat out is a nightmare. Even those restaurants that advertise a gluten-free menu put caveats about how they cannot be responsible for cross contamination.


    It is a life altering diagnosis just as any other serious illness but because "you only need to avoid gluten" it is not taken with the same degree of seriousness.


    Education that begins with the medical community would help.

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    I have been diagnosed with celiac disease. It has changed my life entirely. I don't think it is such a great thing to have. Look at the other things we face. It is very hard when you have a family that does not have it and you have to cook the things for them, but still you have to sit and watch them eat the things you love. I hate this disease.

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    Given all the horrible diseases one could get, I think it's a great disease. All you have to do is stop eating something. How difficult is that, really? We have to accept our illness and make the best of it with dignity and grace. I've had it for 12 years. We have it 10 times better now than we did then.

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    In my opinion, anyone (including myself) with celiac disease should feel blessed that we can control our own destiny through elimination and control of what we ingest. Often people will say to me, "I feel sorry for you". My reply is, "It could be a lot worse," and that is the truth. I could be like one of my friends who has terrible MS or another who has cancer. They cannot get better, and feel better, by denying themselves food that they probably didn't need anyway. I was diagnosed in 2004 and have never intentionally ingested gluten since then. In retrospect, to call celiac disease "great," isn't so far off considering the alternatives. Just remember, food is eat to live, not live to eat.

    What a great attitude!

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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 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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