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Is Celiac the World's Greatest Disease? 01/07/2013 - In a recent article for, 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.

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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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19 Responses:

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said this on
09 Jan 2013 9:49:04 AM PST
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.

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said this on
14 Jan 2013 3:56:59 AM PST
Couldn't have said it any better, I agree completely with your response!

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said this on
15 Jan 2013 12:21:30 PM PST
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.

Robyn Bray
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said this on
10 Jan 2013 2:38:42 PM PST
I completely agree! Knowing I have celiac disease has changed my life! I view food as my fuel for energy, my healing agent for inflammation and pain, and my escape route from drugs and an inept medical system. It gives me power! I have always tried to do what was right for myself and lots of what I had been told was wrong! It's a battle in a culture that is designed to destroy us, but knowledge is power and I thank God every day for this knowledge. The Bible says "My people perish for lack of knowledge," and our current health status in the US proves that.

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said this on
14 Jan 2013 5:50:09 AM PST
I have Celiac and I'm allergic to corn, sulfites and more. Many gluten-free foods contain those allergens, and are often not labeled. Food allergies are also controlled by diets that avoid those allergens. Much like celiacs who have to avoid gluten containing foods. Doctors tend to ignore food related illnesses, in favor of treating people with costly drugs or surgery. There is no money in telling people to avoid gluten or food allergens. Most doctors wont even look for them, so people suffer for years, without knowing what is really wrong with them. The medical establishment is not going to change, just because the spotlight is being shown on celiac. And people will still not be properly treated with diet, instead of useless drugs.

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said this on
14 Jan 2013 7:44:26 AM PST
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.

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said this on
29 Jan 2013 1:42:01 PM PST
What a great attitude!

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said this on
14 Jan 2013 10:46:11 AM PST
Awakening people and getting them to see the truth sometimes means using one disease in order to open the eyes of many.

If celiac disease, whose only "cure" is to forego gluten/eat a healthier diet, is the catalyst that will get people to realize that nutrition/food is one of the main causes for our current issue with these numerous chronic diseases we currently face, then perhaps that is the way we need to move forward.

Get people to realize that a bad diet, nutrient deficient food, manmade/factory made food, processed/fast foods, pesticide/chemicals/dyes/artificial flavorings/artificial sugars, MSG/Aspartame ALL CONTRIBUTE to poor health and their chronic disease.

Once a mind is opened up and people start seriously seeing, looking at, questioning, contemplating, and researching where their food comes from and why/how poor food choices affect the body/give a person this particular dis-ease--then and only then will we see a huge groundswelling, outpouring of protest and people who will demand that our food system is fixed.

I am all for using any means necessary to get the uninformed, sleeping sheeple to wake up and realize exactly what denatured and denutritioned foods do to the body; they make them sick.

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said this on
14 Jan 2013 12:11:26 PM PST
There is no disease that is "great" and celiac is definitely not great in any way!!!!!! I agree, Laura, that is offensive. Celiac has actually turned my life from great to terrible!

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said this on
14 Jan 2013 12:32:50 PM PST
I found this article very interesting. What an unusual, and yet so obvious way to look at celiac disease. Mr. Maskell makes a good point. Doctors are far too quick to diagnose and push pills. If doctors and patients alike spent more time trying to heal their bodies and solve the problems, instead of just masking them, imagine the change we could make to our health as a society. When I found out I had celiac disease, after eight and a half months of living off gravel and pepto bismol, I was thrilled! To be able to fix my body and finally feel good again, just by changing what I eat... It truly is a blessing to know I have the power to change my life.

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said this on
14 Jan 2013 2:20:41 PM PST
Some of you are right our disease is not great however, we can completly control it on our own. No 6 month blood draws or treatments or medications. If looking at us helps others be more aware of what they are eating good for them. I feel blessed to have such a problem I can manage on my own.

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said this on
14 Jan 2013 3:50:45 PM PST
While Dr. Maskell makes an interesting point, I sure don't think of my illness as great. I was misdiagnosed throughout my life, tested for everything imaginable, given pills that did nothing to cure me (but probably created other problems) and I was treated by many doctors as if my symptoms were all in my head. My life changed when one astute physician determined that the problem was gluten. I am still bitterly angry that food companies continue to use wheat as a filler and that our wheat crops have been genetically modified to contain more gluten than is natural. I'd love to see food companies take greater responsibility for the health of their customers by eliminating unnecessary gluten, and I'd like to see pharmaceutical companies and doctors stop pushing pills on us before figuring out what the real problems are.

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said this on
14 Jan 2013 4:28:50 PM PST
While I understand Mr. Maskell's premise that this is a unique disease because it is the only one with a purely dietary solution, calling it the world's GREATEST disease is a travesty to those of us who suffer from its debilitating effects. I wasn't diagnosed until I was in my 50's, although shortly after my birth until I was 4 or 5 I was classified as a "failure to thrive." I also had two miscarriages, and both my surviving children were premature. It was only after I developed severe neurological symptoms that mimicked MS that I turned to an alternative doctor and was correctly diagnosed. Unfortunately my diagnoses came too late to help my mother who died two years ago of colon cancer and complications from a stroke. I'm sure if she'd been correctly tested when she was younger many of her health problems could have been averted.

The most frustrating thing about celiac disease is the misnomer of a gluten free diet (most people have no idea what is in their food) and the social isolation it causes. Eating in a restaurant is a crap shoot, and having to turn down food from friends and family due to cross contamination is never well received, even by the most caring and understanding individuals. Those who don't care about you think you're just a whiner. Still, I'm glad I have regained a large part of my health and will have a chance at a few more years with my family. But please let Mr. Maskell know, if a pill IS ever invented that can counter the impact of gluten on my life, I'll be first in line to use it.

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said this on
14 Jan 2013 4:31:40 PM PST
I'm sure he would feel differently if he had celiac disease. I don't find it great at all. Yes it is a good thing to be able to help yourself by being forced to eat better, but that doesn't make it all better. I got pretty depressed when I was diagnosed. I still get sad at times. It is a complete life altering situation.

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said this on
14 Jan 2013 8:41:14 PM PST
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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said this on
14 Jan 2013 9:00:42 PM PST
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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said this on
17 Jan 2013 6:26:54 AM PST
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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said this on
17 Jan 2013 7:37:56 PM PST
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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said this on
21 Jan 2013 7:39:02 PM PST
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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