As much as celiac research has progressed in the last 10 years, it’s startling to think about how little we actually know about a disease that afflicts 3 million people in the US alone.
While there’s a thorough understanding of how ingested gluten acts like a pro-inflammatory grenade, there’s much less known about why certain people get celiac disease while others don’t.
The 4 Biggest Contributors to Celiac Development
Here’s a roundup of what we know about what’s behind celiac disease…
- Genetics: There’s no question that certain people with a genetic history of celiac disease or a genetic susceptibility to other autoimmune diseases are at an increased risk for celiac. But a new study by Mayo Clinic scientists found that rates of celiac disease are higher now than they were 50 years ago – even though genetics haven’t budged. Also, no one can explain why some people with a “high-risk” gene for celiac disease never develop the condition.There’s no question genes are part of the equation, but probably less than most people think.
- Leaky Gut: One of the most promising theories is Leaky Gut Syndrome. People with less than an air-tight seal in their intestines have a leaky gut. Leaky guts are likely to let compounds in food – such as gluten – get into the bloodstream where they don’t belong. In response, your body produces antibodies against gluten that attack it and everything around it.
- Hygiene: Are we too clean? Is our obsession with antibacterial everything driving today’s surge in autoimmune diseases like celiac and type 1 diabetes? Perhaps. “The Hygiene Hypothesis” is one of the hottest topics in immunology. In a nutshell, “The Hygiene Hypothesis” suggests that lack of exposure to dirt, germs and other nasty things as a child makes your immune system much more sensitive as an adult.
- Change in Wheat: An interesting new theory about celiac disease is that changes in wheat itself make it more likely to cause an autoimmune response. While interesting, there needs to be more research to dissect the difference between wheat plants over time before this can be taken seriously.
Also, this theory doesn’t explain why many people with celiac are also sensitive to wheat-like plants such as barley. If you can’t eat barley, then there’s little chance you could eat 1960s-style wheat – no matter how different it may have been.
It would be nice if we could pinpoint a single cause and say “that’s why people get celiac disease!” However, that’s not likely to happen no matter how much celiac research is done. Like all chronic diseases, there are multiple causes of celiac disease that come together to cause celiac symptoms and diagnoses.