Living With Celiac Disease: One Woman's Story

"This paper has tremendous limitations. One is that because of the design and the population they have available for the study -- the Air Force -- there were only males and definitely this is not representative of the population," said Fasano. "Two, unfortunately, this is a cross sectional study. You take a snap shot in 1950 and then you take a snapshot today and hope its representative of the true situation of the general population. Ideally, to do a study like this you would like to have the same people. Let's say 5,000 people from 1950 to follow over time."

Fasano, who is preparing to publish a study which supports the notion that the disease's prevalence is changing, and in fact appears to be largely related to the environment, also cautions that there could be outside factors that were different in the 1950s.

"Today we work an average of 40 hours a week; at that time we worked 80 hours a week. Today we mainly work by sitting on a chair, at that time we mainly worked by sweating... Nevertheless, this paper is telling us two important messages: like most autoimmune diseases, celiac disease is increasing in prevalence most likely, and two, that if you are not treated, you may have problems in terms of mortality."

Murray also acknowledged that the study's sampling population was limited, and went on to add that his paper is part of a series of studies on celiac disease, which are funded by the National Institutes of Health.

What's the Explanation?

It is not known at this time why celiac disease appears to be on the rise.

"We think that immune disorders have all become more common in the last 50 years and one of the common explanations is what they call the hygiene hypothesis," Murray said. "We're living in a cleaned environment, but maybe our immune system has less to do and then it starts turning on itself, and in this case, turning on gluten.

Others suggest the increase could be due to changes in the way wheat is grown and processed or the influx of processed foods in the American diet.

Marion Nestle, author of the book "What to Eat" and professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, says gluten intolerance is becoming more commonplace because of better diagnosis.

"The word is out that this is a real problem so people are getting diagnosed," Nestle told ABC News. "It's only recently that tests have become available that pin down sensitivity to specific wheat proteins and demonstrate conclusively that eating those proteins causes intestinal villi to flatten out. Before the tests, it was difficult to know whether the problem was a result of eating wheat or of something else. "

Increasing Awareness for Celiac Disease

"My second week after being diagnosed, I told someone I had celiac and they actually thought that I had an STD. It was so embarrassing," Maltin remembers. "Nothing was marked gluten-free at the grocery, it was really hard to find food ... Even thinking back five or six years ago, my doctor had never diagnosed anyone with celiac. He didn't even want to test me for it, and now he tests everyone for it."

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