In the last few years there have been two major studies evaluating the incidence of celiac disease in the US military. The first study, 2010, revealed that the incidence actually quadrupled as the population aged. A soldier who was in his or her twenties likely had a 1% incidence of celiac disease but that same soldier’s risk rose to 4% as time passed and he moved into his fourth or fifth decade of life. The most recent study shows that incidence to quintuple – 5X as the soldiers aged.
The study, just released on May 15, 2012 in the American Journal of Gastroenterology is titled “The Incidence and Risk of Celiac Disease in a Healthy US Adult Population”. It puts the blame of the increased incidence on life stressors, including illnesses, surgeries and trauma.
Is this a new concept? Not to me or my team. We’ve been operating on this as the root cause of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity for quite some time. But finding a research study to corroborate our protocols is always a nice acknowledgement.
Now let’s get back to our favorite question: “Why”.
As Dr Alessio Fasano pointed out several years ago, the presence of gluten in the diet of someone at risk genetically for celiac disease is not enough for the disease to develop. The third ‘prong’ of the disease is an unhealthy small intestine.
A healthy small intestine actually has the wherewithal to prevent the gene responsible for celiac disease from expressing itself. How? The vast population of probiotics, or healthy bacteria in the gut, can, when healthy, keep bad genes turned off. It is only when these probiotics decrease in number and strength that their ability to suppress these bad genes becomes ineffective.
What does that mean for you and those you care about?
1. You must realize that keeping your small intestine healthy is paramount to optimal health.
2. Eating a very healthy diet is one of the most important steps you can take to ensure #1 above. Obviously it’s a big step to determine what’s most healthy for you, but I can help with that.
3. Realize that celiac disease and gluten sensitivity can develop at any age and is more likely to occur with each passing decade. So get tested, and if your health is not doing well, continue to get tested because a negative test at age 35 could mean a positive test at age 40.
4. The stressors that this study described as a cause for weakening the small intestine included such things as infections of the digestive tract, surgeries and trauma.
As an example of an infection, ‘gastroenteritis’ (meaning the ‘stomach flu’ as most people call it), was found to be highly linked to later development of celiac disease. So too were surgeries and trauma.
Does a truly healthy gut immune system get gastroenteritis (stomach flu)? Doubtful. This is perhaps why getting the stomach flu is a harbinger of celiac disease to come – that third prong, the unhealthy small intestine – has been activated. In such an ‘at risk’ individual, celiac disease is not far behind.
What is ‘trauma’? It could be a tough pregnancy, being a soldier at war, a car accident or even ‘mental’ stress such as a messy divorce or intense job stress. Clinically, after working with so many patients, we have been confident in the cause and effect relationship of these three initiators (infection, surgery and trauma) long before this study was released. But once again, it’s great to see it in print as corroboration.
5. Look around at your family. Are there digestive issues, neurological problems such as migraines, depression, etc? Are autoimmune diseases present in your family? If so, you should get yourself tested as well as those whose health is not what it should be. One thing we DO know is that these diseases are genetic – looking to your family tree can help you and those you love discover if gluten is affecting your health before it has done permanent damage.
The most significant take-away from this study is this: Just because you’ve been tested for celiac disease once in your life doesn’t mean that you can’t develop it later. As a matter a fact your chances increase 5-fold that you will develop celiac with increased age. We don’t know yet how gluten sensitivity increases with age, but it’s my opinion that it also sees a dramatic increase with age and a lessening of overall health.
I believe that one of the biggest mistakes we make is ruling out celiac disease or gluten sensitivity after a single test. Not only are the tests available not as sensitive as they need to be, making false negatives an abundant problem, but a true negative today cannot rule out the potential of a positive test in the future.
Does this ring true for you? Did you develop a gluten problem as you got older or after a major life event involving infection, surgery or trauma?
I’d like to hear from you. Please send me your questions and comments.
If your health is not at the level you desire please contact me for a free health analysis. We are here to help!
Our destination clinic treats patients from across the country and internationally so you do not have to live locally to receive assistance.
To your good health,
Dr Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN
Founder of HealthNOW Medical Center
Co-author of “The Gluten Effect”
Author of the eBook: “Gluten Intolerance: What you don’t know may be killing you!”
Nominated for Gluten Free Doctor of the Year 2012