Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Celiac Disease : The Silent Killer

Perhaps the title of this Gluten-Free Blog article is a bit harsh or otherwise scary, but I want to bring attention to how serious this disease really is, and how widespread it is becoming.

I was just reading a summary article about a Mayo Clinic study published a couple months ago in the journal of Gastroenterology, where the study looked at LONG-TERM (45+ years) mortality outcomes for people affected with Celiac disease (an immune system reaction to gluten in the diet), and the trends in population-prevalence of this disease.

Here are the key findings in brief:
  • [study] subjects who did not know they had celiac disease were nearly four times more likely than celiac-free subjects to have died during the 45 years of follow-up [I read this as: ignoring Celiac disease, and leaving it untreated (i.e., not following a strict gluten-free diet), leads to premature death, simply put]
  • undiagnosed or 'silent' celiac disease may have a significant impact on survival; [four-times higher mortality-rate is certainly significant!]
  • Celiac Disease is 4.5 times more common today than it was 50 years ago [it now affects about 1 in every 100 people in the general population], but scientists do not know why;
  • The increasing prevalence, combined with the mortality impact, suggests celiac disease could be a significant public health issue. [perhaps this is obvious after reading those prior bullet-points, right?]
The study was rather fascinating in how they came up with this long-term diagnostic information. They relied on blood samples taken back in the late 1940's and early 1950's at Warren Air Force Base (AFB) in Wyoming, and applied modern antibody-testing techniques to those blood samples to determine which participants back then had Celiac Disease and did not know they had it.

This data was then aligned with information about those study-participants' lifespans and longevity (or lack thereof) over the next 45+ years, and poof: out popped this alarming bit of information about those with undiagnosed or untreated (i.e., non-gluten-free diet followers) Celiac Disease, and how they were dying off at a rate 4 times higher than the general population!

The best thing about studies like this is not the fear that it may put into those with Celiac Disease or gluten-intolerance (though, being "scared into" a strict gluten-free diet may be the only way some people will follow the diet they should), but the important thing is increased awareness of the severity of the disease throughout the medical community. The study pointed out how testing for CD should be treated perhaps just like testing for cholesterol, high blood pressure, or other equal risks to patient mortality.

With a disease that presents with a series of wide-ranging symptoms including diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, weight loss, anemia, unexplained infertility, loss of teeth or even premature or severe osteoporosis, there has to be a better way of detecting Celiac Disease (as the true *cause*) more quickly and effectively than the current hunt-and-peck approach to "diagnosing" CD that many of us have experienced.

This quote from the study says it all:
"Some studies have suggested that for every person who has been diagnosed with celiac disease, there are likely 30 who have it but are not diagnosed. And given the nearly quadrupled mortality risk for silent celiac disease we have shown in our study, getting more patients and health professionals to consider the possibility of celiac disease is important."
If you, or anyone you know, is likely to have Celiac Disease and is ignoring the signs and/or not following a strict gluten-free diet, please... point out the fact that they may be gambling with their life expectancy and that this gluten-free requirement is something to be taken seriously. And, on the flip-side, do not obsess about the numbers from this study if you follow a gluten-free diet: the study only found that "silent Celiac" (i.e., untreated) was a predictor of higher mortality.

The bottom line: maintain a proper gluten-free diet with solid nutrition and exercise, and you should remain outside the at-risk population described in this study.

Note: if you want to read the summary yourself, here is a link to it: Science Daily - CD Long-Term Study Article.


denparser said...

ouch! i never heard this before. that's horrible.

dves said...

we can get thru of this kind of disease if we follow doctor's advice and eat healthy foods regularly.

Wendy said...

While I've never been diagnosed, I live gluten free - the symptoms have me convinced I'm celiac - thanks for your site and insight! I've given you a blog award - please feel free to stop by my site to "pick" it up and pass it on if you so desire!

My Gluten Free Baker said...

The US has been so far behind in the diagnoses of Celiac diseas. While my 21 year old daughter wasted away to 68 pounds, it took me to threaten the hospital president in order for her to receive the scope and of course she tested positive! However, in Italy, where celiac disease is common, all children are screened by age 6 so that even asymptomatic disease is caught early. In addition, Italians of any age are tested for the disease as soon as they show symptoms. As a result of this vigilance, the time between when symptoms begin and the disease is diagnosed is usually only 2 to 3 weeks.

Eric said...

great information.. I believe everyone should be aware of symptoms are be tested if they have any doubt

victoria lynn said...

Victoria Lynn
As one who has severe osteoporosis supposed to be related to celiac, I appreciate any warning to stir up awareness. My own sons have several symptoms and will not be tested! I will include articles and recipes as well in my blog now being established. Thank you for your contributions.

מįćǿĹé said...

I have coeliac disease, it's kind of easy to follow once you get used to it. i've had it for 3 years now!

EMR said...

What causes this one?Could you elaborate?What are the foods that need to be avoided for this one?

collin said...

It's something a new disease that i am coming across. It was very informative. As how a proper gluten-free diet can help cure the celiac disease, similarly a proper nutritious diet can help reduce obesity.

Collin paul

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