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Celiac Disease Diagnoses On the Rise

Photo: CC/Eneas 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.

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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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7 Responses:

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said this on
11 Aug 2010 10:36:45 AM PST
I don't think Celiac was as rare as claimed, prior to the 50's. I was born in 1941 and was a sickly child, and suffered from many classic symptoms of Celiac. But, I wasn't diagnosed until 2004. No tests for it were ever done for me, before that year. The same goes for my mother, and several other family members, who also had so many symptoms of Celiac, going back at least 3 generations. No Celiac tests on any of them. Perhaps, some doctors are starting to pay attention to foods being a cause of people's heath problems, instead of just pushing drugs on them, that only treat the symptoms, not the cause.

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said this on
16 Aug 2010 5:24:38 PM PST
Interesting; funny coincidence that the US started fluoridating the water around the 1950’s. I really feel there’s a connection between Celiac & fluoride sensitivity/toxicity. That would explain the “environmental change to the grains happened in the 1950's”. I wonder how many of the people that were studied were on well water vs public water? Celiac Symptoms are very similar to that of fluoride exposure.

mary poole
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said this on
02 Sep 2010 4:11:26 PM PST
That was great.

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said this on
16 Aug 2010 6:03:08 PM PST
I've read two studies recently that seem to relate to the new prevalence of celiac disease. The first is a strong correlation between birth by Caesarian and celiac. The second was that researchers just figured out that one of the components of human breast milk that has long baffled them (it isn't digestible by human babies) is intended to feed a strain of probiotics that line babies' guts to protect them from bad bacteria and viruses. Since babies born by Caesarian are a lot less likely to have been breast fed (they are typically given formula right off the bat because the mother's milk is delayed by the traumatic birth procedure), I have a strong suspicion we should be looking at the correlation between celiac and breastfeeding. I think we may very well find a connection there to autism and behavior problems. Since the rate of birth by Caesarian just keeps going up and up (creating ever greater profits for health care professionals and institutions) , it seems to me it's worth a look. I wonder if anyone else has information about these connections.

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said this on
29 Aug 2010 1:56:21 PM PST
Could the lower number of positive blood samples be because the samples have been frozen for 60 years? I know that some analytes deteriorate after being frozen, even in -70 degrees Celcius, for long periods of time.

Sharryn Penney
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said this on
11 Nov 2013 2:37:57 PM PST
I believe there is a correlation with a lot of the autoimmune diseases we have today and the prevalence of infant milk formula. The babies didn't get probiotic intake for the first years of life. I have read the history of milk substitution for formula. It's a casualty list of death and disease from lack of knowledge while trialing new milk. Let alone a long term study of how the health has been maintained through the lifespan.

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said this on
09 Oct 2014 8:47:03 AM PST
I was supposedly a celiac baby and so was my first cousin. We have had no symptoms since we were about about one year old and eat gluten without problems. Either we were misdiagnosed as this was the 50s and early 60s, or something else.

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