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Celiac Disease 4 Times More Prevalent than Fifty Years Ago

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By Rachel Stockton 

A study conducted by researchers of the Mayo Clinic has confirmed that the incidence of Celiac disease is four times greater than it was 50 years ago, according to the journal Gastrointerology.  

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body reacts to gluten, a specific protein in wheat, rye and oats. Although doctors are aware that there has been a sharp increase in how often the ailment is diagnosed, experts were uncertain if that was simply because the medical community was actively looking for it, something that was not done half a century ago.

However, the Mayo study puts that particular mystery to rest. Over 9000 blood samples taken from 1948-1954 were compared with 12,000 samples recently taken from subjects in Olmstead City in Minnesota. The antibody that is produced when the body reacts to gluten was found in only .02 percent of the older samples; the presence of the antibody in the newer samples was 4.5 times as high. This translates into an occurrence rate of 1 in 100 patients.

The question that is now under debate is exactly why Celiac cases have morphed over the last fifty years. The most obvious conclusion is that wheat and bread products are processed differently than they were in the 1950s.  

There is also a more controversial take on the illness. Some are attributing it to the “hygiene hypothesis.” a theory that was first announced in 1989 in the British Medical Journal. The basic gist of the hygiene hypothesis is that children, because of our culture’s emphasis on cleanliness and disinfection, are not exposed to certain infectious agents and “symbiotic micro-organisms.” This underexposure, the theory maintains, short circuits the development of some regulatory T-Cells, leaving a number of patients more prone to certain allergies.

Whatever the source, the good news is that Celiac disease can be controlled through diet. Chronic sufferers of what was initially thought to be Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or some other ailment that left them with intestinal issues and debilitating fatigue, have been able to dramatically reverse their symptoms by completely eliminating gluten from the diet. 

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Subscribe to comments feed Comments (1 posted):

Paul T. on 07/13/2009 03:40:29
About the study, my question is how stable are those 60 year old antibodies frozen in the blood samples. I know from working many years in a public health laboratory that analytes can become unstable over time (even frozen at -70 degrees Celcius) causing a false negative result upon testing. So, if those old samples were falsely negative, then the conclusion would be false as well.
Thank you,
Paul T.
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