As more and more people are getting diagnosed with Celiac disease, a wheat-related auto-immune condition, the obvious question that arises is — Are we getting more aware and is diagnosis better or has the prevalence gone up?
It seems from research that the incidence of disease has undoubtedly risen dramatically. Interestingly, while it was unknown in the older population some time ago, it is now known to be twice as likely to be diagnosed than the general population.
While genetics definitely play a role in predisposition to Celiac disease like any other auto-immune disease, environmental triggers are needed to precipitate the disease.
Dr Murray, a researcher in Mayo Clinic, and his team analysed 3 sets of blood samples from airforce recruits that was drawn 50 years earlier and stored in a lab freezer. Blood taken recently from young men whose age matched those of the airforce men at the time their blood was drawn and in addition, new blood samples taken from elderly men who are contemporaries of the now elderly airforce recruits.
The comparisons showed that the elderly men today have four times the incidence of Celiac disease compared with the young recruits of 50 years ago and that the disease is 4.5 times more common among today’s young men than the young men of the 1950s. Also, in investigating the health records of the 1950s recruits, Dr Murray learned that the ones who’d had undiagnosed Celiac disease were four times more likely than the other recruits to have died since then.
“These results tell us that whatever happened to increase Celiac disease happened after 1950,” said Dr Murray . The theory suggests that some change in the environment, as in how much wheat we eat as well as how wheat is grown and processed, may be partially or fully to blame. Perhaps the new variants of wheat has increased it’s immunogenicity or the pesticide-resistant varieties have allowed too much application of toxic chemical pesticides.
According to estimates, over 90 per cent people with Celiac disease remain undiagnosed. Since symptoms can be non-specific and many may not have symptoms at all, it makes sense to be highly suspicious if you have any nagging complaint. These include abdominal bloating and pain, diarrhoea, vomiting, gas, constipation and unexplained weight loss or inability to lose weight . Those who have a sibling, child, grandchild or any other blood relative who is a known case of Celiac disease should certainly be on guard; there is a 10 per cent chance of having Celiac disease and a 100 per cent chance of gluten sensitivity. If any of these symptoms or categories describes you, please do go for screening. Don’t first experiment with a gluten-free diet, since doing so can result in a false-negative when you get the test. And, speaking of false-negative results, these occur quite often with Celiac disease, so if your test results are negative but symptoms persist, you may want to seek further evaluation and discussion with your physician.