Gluten Identified as Culprit of Unusual Celiac Disease

July 1, 2009

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic (Rochester, MN) have determined that celiac disease is four times more common today than it was in the 1950s, according to a Mayo Clinic study published in the June issue of Gastroenterology.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic (Rochester, MN) have determined that celiac disease is four times more common today than it was in the 1950s, according to a Mayo Clinic study published in the June issue of Gastroenterology.

Celiac disease occurs when gluten from wheat, barley, or protein causes an attack on the immune system and nutrient-absorbing villi in the small intestine become damaged. Symptoms of celiac disease include diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, and weight loss. Since these symptoms are typically associated with other more common diseases, celiac disease can be misidentified.

A Mayo Clinic study conducted from 1948 to 1954 at Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming tested blood samples for the antibody produced in celiac disease. A follow-up of 45 years determined that patients who had celiac disease had a mortality rate four times higher than those patients who were celiac-free.

The Mayo Clinic recently conducted two similar blood test sets in Olmsted County, MN. One set was taken from patients matching the birth years of those from the Warren study, and the other with patients matching the ages of the Warren patients at the time of the Warren study. Results indicate that younger people are 4.5 times more likely to have celiac disease, and people as old as the Warren participants are four times more likely to have celiac disease.

"Something has changed in our environment to make [celiac disease] much more common,” says Joseph Murray, MD, the lead researcher in the recent studies. “Until recently, the standard approach to finding celiac disease has been to wait for people to complain of symptoms and to come to the doctor for investigation. This study suggests that we may need to consider looking for celiac disease in the general population, more like we do in testing for cholesterol or blood pressure."

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