21540 Modern Medicine's Perspective on John F. Kennedy: Did he have Celiac Disease? - Celiac.com
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Modern Medicine's Perspective on John F. Kennedy: Did he have Celiac Disease?

Celiac.com 02/23/2008 - This week it was revealed that scores of previously unknown files and boxes of other materials pertaining to JFK, Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby have been discovered in the Dallas County Courthouse.  Conspiracy theorists and historians will be particularly eager to have access to these materials, and the life and death of our 35th president will once again be examined in great detail.

The reason I mention this news item here is that in the course of my research for my upcoming book on living with celiac disease, I read an article by Columbia University's Dr. Peter H.R. Green in which he chronicled the many illnesses of President Kennedy.  Apparently, he suffered from severe and painful medical problems that began in his childhood.  Dr. Green writes,

"In Kennedy's adolescence, gastrointestinal symptoms, weight and growth problems as well as fatigue were described. Later in life, he suffered from abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, osteoporosis, migraine and Addison's disease. Chronic back problems, due to osteoporosis resulted in several operations and required medications for chronic pain. He was extensively evaluated in major medical centers including the Mayo Clinic and hospitals in Boston, New Haven and New York. Among the multiple diagnoses were ulcers, colitis, spastic colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and food allergies. His medications included corticosteroids, antispasmotics, Metamucil and Lomotil. However it is not clear that his physicians obtained a definitive diagnosis. Review of this medical history raises the possibility that JFK had celiac disease."

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Wow.  That gives one pause, doesn't it?  Imagine that this president -- who had access to the finest physicians of the day -- might have suffered from a disease that could have been relieved by a simple change in diet if only the diagnosis had been made, let alone considered.  Don't you feel lucky that your physicians have access to modern medical knowledge which has only understood as recently as 2003 that over 3 million Americans suffer from celiac disease?

We are indeed fortunate to live in a time with researchers like Dr. Alessio Fasano at the University of Maryland's Center for Celiac Research, whose studies have put celiac disease on the radar screen of physicians from around the world.  We can still do more to educate doctors and others about celiac disease so that no one has to suffer needlessly with incorrect diagnoses.

To help fund these efforts, please go to www.celiacwalk.org to register, donate, sponsor a participant or learn more about the University of Maryland's 7th Annual INTERNATIONAL Run/Walk for Celiac Disease on Sunday, May 4, 2008.

Be sure to read the full text of Dr. Green's article, "Was JFK the Victim of an Undiagnosed Disease Common to the Irish."

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10 Responses:

Joan Hergott
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said this on
29 Feb 2008 2:01:30 PM PDT
I wish Bill Clinton would say Celiac disease instead of wheat allergy!

Phyllis Morrow
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said this on
29 Feb 2008 4:03:02 PM PDT
Certainly sounds plausible. Just imagine how much public knowledge and medical research would have been advanced during his presidency if he had been diagnosed. I think of the fictional president Bartlett on the TV show West Wing, whose diagnosis with MS led to public awareness of the disease...

Pam Minton
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said this on
01 Mar 2008 6:40:17 AM PDT
If a sample of President Kennedy's DNA could be tested, a definite diagnosis could be discovered. This could benefit his family and others. I would be amazed if testing occurred AND made public.


said this on
01 Mar 2008 9:27:03 AM PDT
Universal testing / screening is the key. The issue is that doctors and medical facilities are failing to test.

If we wide-polled patients following an annual physical, I think it would be evident that there are Celiac symptoms and no Celiac testing, consistently.

True, people in the public eye bring media attention and some awareness.

But when testing is always part of a physical exam, then we will see resolution of the 97% missed diagnosis - and changes to some of our most prevalent serious health issues.

There are other diseases for which we do not wait for obvious symptoms. Celiac should be entered into this category.

Sarah Dier
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said this on
01 Mar 2008 9:59:50 AM PDT
WOW imagine how many more people would learn about celiac if a former president had it!!

Margaret Marchant
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said this on
01 Mar 2008 10:38:48 AM PDT
With more information like this out there we may get more research into celiac and gluten intolerance. Now to get doctors to realize that non-celiac gluten intolerance is real, and the diet is the proof of it's importance.

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said this on
01 Mar 2008 10:35:55 PM PDT
Interesting article, and it's entirely possible of course. Do note thought that uncontrolled/under-treated Addison's Disease can also cause similar symptoms.

My comment to the first poster:

Why do you assume that Clinton has Celiac Disease? He may really have a wheat allergy.

I have Celiac (bloodwork and biopsy proven) as well as anaphylaxis (like a peanut allergy) to wheat.

People (including adults) can and do develop severe and sometimes life-threatening allergies to wheat. This is an entirely different thing from Celiac Disease.

Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease. Wheat allergies are IgE mediated food allergies. Think of peanut allergies...same sort of thing...but to wheat.

I honestly don't know what Clinton suffers from...but I wouldn't automatically assume Celiac...

People with Celiac have to remember that not *everything* is Celiac...

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said this on
07 Mar 2008 12:16:27 PM PDT
Since I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease I look at people's body stature, I have often wondered if Jackie Kennedy had Celiac Disease. I read somewhere where her cause of death was intestinal non-Hodgkin's Disease.

Jeff Kelly
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said this on
18 Jul 2009 5:08:26 AM PDT
In 2002 I thought the connection was interesting, but Mr. Adams who owns this site thought my ideas on the matter were wrong. By now posting the truth--he has reversed course, but I see it took six years--in addition to the 39 years it took to get Kennedy's medical information publicly released--to get this out.
Silliness seems to continue on this, and my own father by the way personally nominated Mr. Kennedy to be President as a delegate to the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles--a peripheral fact, but one that tends to underscore "the burning of my Celiac balls" over this type of delay!! [Scott Adams' Reply: Just for the record I ran an article on this topic way back in 2002, so I'm not sure why you think I've ignored this issue. Here is the link: http://www.celiac.com/articles/624/1/Was-JFK-the-Victim-of-an-Undiagnosed-Disease-Common-to-the-Irish/Page1.html]

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said this on
14 Nov 2009 7:50:29 PM PDT
Nope. I have Addison's and I was tested for Celiac. I have read about his illnesses and his symptoms and treatment were exact to mine. And I have been tested for Celiac and I don't have it, BUT TRUST IT CAN MIMIC IT PERFECTLY. He had Schmitts Syndrome like me I believe which is Hashimoto's and Addison's put together.

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Maybe try a rice based milk, I find the coconut flavoured ones really good with cereal.

I guess they've never felt the political pressure the mainstream cereal producers were under in the age of rickets and pellagra? Plus there's not such a competitive market and its a cost manufacturers would sooner do without if they can, although if Udi's or Genius did start perhaps they'd get more business. I think I'll start eating flax seed again, that was good for fibre I think. I take a vitamin supplement also of course.

Good for you! One suggestion, if you run into another reaction like your Endo, try and ask a question which puts the burden of proof on them, ie: 'Given the positive blood test, on what clinical basis are you excluding celiac?' At least it forces them to be more precise and perhaps exposes any flaws in their reasoning. Although if you reach that stage with a doctor it's probably worth looking for another... If I were a cynic I'd say your Endo had already metaphorically left the building when they were analysing your tests.Your primary seems more on the ball though Best of luck! If and when you go gluten free come back here and there will be plenty of support for you.

Great Image JMG. Thanks for the feedback. I think I feel that the decision to push for further tests, and not shrug it off is the direction I want to go. And I think I may try the diet post-endoscopy, and see if I respond (particularly if my thyroid responds to the diet). Thank you All!

Only GIs can order a complete celiac panel at Kaiser. Your results look negative, but those are just "screening" results. You are not IgA deficient (used only as a control test for celiac disease) so that means the TTG IgA test worked. If you suspect celiac disease, ask for a GI referral. Keep eating gluten!!!! If you go gluten free then all the celiac tests will be invalid. You should rule out other issues like Crohn's, SIBO, etc based on your symptoms and health history. I would ask for a complete celiac panel from the GI. Why? Not all celiacs test positive to the TTG which is a cheaper, but excellent test but does not catch all celiacs like me!!!