Complaints of celiac disease are on the rise in the United States, with more and more people growing ill from exposure to products containing gluten.
Nearly five times as many people have celiac disease today than did during the 1950s, according to one recent study. Another report found that the rate of celiac disease has doubled every 15 years since 1974 and is now believed to affect one in every 133 U.S. residents.
Celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disorder that causes the body's immune system to attack the small intestine, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center. The attack is prompted by exposure to gluten, a protein found in such grains as wheat, rye and barley.
The disease interferes with proper digestion and, in children, prompts symptoms that include bloating, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation. Adults with celiac disease are less likely to show digestive symptoms but will develop problems such as anemia, fatigue, osteoporosis or arthritis as the disorder robs their bodies of vital nutrients.
Awareness of celiac disease has grown in recent years, evidenced by the growing number of gluten-free foods on the market. However, medical experts don't believe that the increase in celiac disease incidence can be chalked up simply to folks becoming more aware of the chronic digestive disorder or to improvements in diagnostic techniques.
Potential explanations for the rise in celiac disease rates include:
But while experts try to find a cause -- and then, they hope, a cure -- advocates urge people who are at risk for developing celiac disease to undergo screening for the disorder.
An increase in the amount of gluten found in grains
Children being exposed to gluten from an early age.
Too few women breast-feeding their children.
Studies also have found that the earlier people find out they have celiac disease, the better able they are to head off the disorder's more debilitating effects.
Resources: Healthwise and Health Day