One of the triumphs in the celiac disease community in our nascent 21st century has been a dramatically heightened awareness of celiac disease. The once considered rare “celiac sprue” is now well-known to afflict approximately 1% of all people in the US.
As more and more people are diagnosed with celiac disease than ever before, scientists are debating whether the flood of diagnoses represents more cases or simply more awareness.
A new study conducted by Mayo Clinic scientists discovered that the actual number of people with celiac disease is rising at a rapid clip. This data is a blow to CD experts that claim better awareness by patients and doctors is largely responsible for the swelling number of official CD cases.
In this study, scientists analyzed blood taken from Air Force soldiers in the 1960s and compared them to blood samples taken from a group of random volunteers today. They discovered that markers of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity were 400% higher in today’s blood samples.
The scientists still aren’t sure why people born in 1995 are more likely to develop celiac disease than those born in 1965. However, they note that today’s obsession with uber-hygiene (think antibacterial soap and hand sanitizer) may cause the immune system to become over-reactive.
They also hypothesize that changes in the actual wheat plant itself may play a role. After extensive cross-breeding, the wheat we eat today bears little resemblance to wheat from the past. It may be that today’s wheat is more gliadin-dense – making it more likely to illicit reactions in gliadin-sensitive individuals.
While it may be years before we get those questions answered, this study is a landmark in celiac disease history because it shows that celiac is a condition that’s on the rise – and not simply the result of more diligent diagnosing.