A Changing Environment and the Increasing Prevalence of Celiac Disease

The National Institute of Health (NIH) just released the Fall, 2009 Celiac Disease E-Newsletter and in it is the following article that seriously makes me shudder over the food we put into our bodies and the effect it is having on the human body: obesity, diabetes (among many others) and now possibly even celiac disease?

Research studies in the United States and Europe show that celiac disease is significantly more common now than it was a few generations ago. Recent research by Joseph Murray, M.D., professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, and colleagues shows that this shift reflects an actual increase in prevalence, not merely a new awareness of the disease and more accurate diagnostic tools. Murray and colleagues’ research—reported briefly in the Spring/Summer 2009 issue of Celiac Disease News—compared blood samples collected 50 years ago from more than 9,000 young adults, mostly men, at Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming with current samples from age-matched men. The investigators found that celiac disease is four times more common today than a half-century ago. The increase cannot be a result of changes in the genetic factors that underlie celiac disease, Murray explained. “Of course, human genetics will change in response to the environment, but that change is extremely slow. It’s far more probable that the increase is due to an environmental change, and the most likely factor is a change involving the grain in our diets,” Murray said. “Consumption of wheat has increased steadily over the past 50 years, but it still is less than what it was a century ago, so the issue is not simple consumption,” Murray noted. “It more likely involves the wheat itself, which has undergone extensive hybridization as a crop and undergoes dramatic changes during processing that involves oxidizers, new methods of yeasting, and other chemical processes. We have no idea what effect these changes may have on the immune system.”

A second environmental factor that may be contributing to the increase in celiac disease is what is known as the “hygiene hypothesis,” explained Murray. This theory proposes that the developing immune system has to be stimulated by exposure to infectious agents, bacteria, or parasites in order to develop properly. An increasingly clean environment reduces the number of factors that challenge and stimulate the developing immune system, making infants and children more susceptible to immune disorders and allergic diseases. The hygiene hypothesis may account, in part, for the increases observed not only in celiac disease, but in other allergies and immune disorders. “Diet and hygiene both may play a role in the increase. There no doubt are multiple environmental factors that interact to trigger the onset in people who are genetically predisposed,” Murray said. “The increasing prevalence makes it more important that health care providers and patients are alert to the possibility of celiac disease.”

Check out this video clip from the film Food, Inc.; while it is not about celiac disease, it does give some rather disturbing “food for thought.”

Makes ya wonder huh? I cannot recommend this film enough. Mike and I watched it a few weeks ago and I have not looked at the food in the grocery store the same since!

5 Responses

  1. Can not open up link. Can you resend?

  2. We saw this movie, too. It is indeed eye-opening. The old adage, “you are what you eat,” certainly comes to mind. I love your web site, Heidi. Keep it up!

    • Thank you Maggie!

      Have you read the book “Omnivores Dilemma?” by Michael Pollan? You cannot help but wonder how the foods we consume (and presume are safe for us to eat because they are packaged and sold as “food” in grocery stores) are affecting our health. Looking at the increased rates at which children are being diagnosed with food allergies, food intolerances, ADHD, autism, diabetes, among others, it has to be more than just increased awareness. I cannot help but notice that the busier we get and consequently, rely more and more on “fast” foods (ie: processed foods) to feed our families; the rates at which diseases and disorders such as the few I mentioned, seem to be going up right along with it. I do realize that there are also other factors involved too, like our sedentary lifestyles.

      I don’t know, I am just a mom and not an expert by any means but it is certainly making me question and think about what I feed my family. Anyway, thank you for commenting Maggie! I would love to get more dialogue going on subjects such as this!

      Happy Holidays!

  3. […] what about this in regards to the Increasing Prevalence of Celiac […]

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