more prevalent, study finds
of Article: http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2009/jul/14/gluten-allergy-more-prevalent-study-finds/
(Minneapolis) Star Tribune
MINNEAPOLIS – A Minnesota study using frozen blood
samples taken from Air Force recruits 50 years ago has found that
intolerance to wheat gluten, a debilitating digestive condition, is four
times more common today than it was in the 1950s.
The findings contradict the prevailing belief that a
sharp increase in diagnoses of wheat gluten intolerance has come about
because of greater awareness and detection, and raises questions about
whether dramatic changes in the American diet have played a role.
“It’s become much more common,” said Dr. Andrew
Murray, the Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist who led the study. No one knows
why, he said, but one reason might be changes in eating habits and food
processing over the last half century.
“Fifty years is way too fast for human genetics to
have changed,” Murray said. “Which tells us it has to be a pervasive
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic and the University of
Minnesota who conducted the study also found that the recruits who had the
undiagnosed digestive condition, called Celiac disease, also had a fourfold
increase in the risk of death.
Today an estimated 1 out of 100 people suffer from
the inherited disorder, though people often don’t know they have it.
The disease occurs in people whose bodies cannot
digest gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. The undigested
protein triggers the body’s immune system to attack the lining of the small
intestine, causing diarrhea, nausea and abdominal pain. Though people live
with it for many years, over time it destroys the lining of the small
intestine, leading to an inability to absorb nutrients such as iron and
calcium. That, in turn, causes serious conditions, including anemia,
osteoporosis and even infertility in both men and women.
The only treatment is a gluten-free diet – no wheat,
rye or barley.
Murray said he initiated the study to find out
whether the disease is on the rise, and whether it had long-term health
consequences if undiagnosed and untreated.
He turned to medical archeology to find the answers –
blood samples taken from recruits at the Warren Air Force base in Cheyenne,
Wyo., between 1948 and 1954. At the time, strep infections were raging
among the recruits, mostly young men on their way to fight in the Korean
War. Doctors there drew the samples as part of a now-famous study that
proved treating the infections with antibiotics would prevent rheumatic
fever, a serious heart ailment that can follow strep throat.
In 2000 the samples were used to help resolve an
intense debate among researchers over whether hepatitis C infection was a
certain death sentence, or whether people could live with it
Murray used a similar design for the study on Celiac
disease, published today in the journal Gastroenterology. He tested more
than 9,133 samples for the antibodies that proved the recruits had Celiac
disease; 43, or about one out of 652, had the disease. He then tested blood
samples from groups of men from Olmsted County, more than 12,000 in all. In
an older group of men, one in 121 tested positive, and in the younger group
one in 106 tested positive, an increase of four to
His findings raise questions about why the number of
people with the disease has grown so fast. But rates of other immune
diseases have also increased a lot. One theory is that modern, clean
living, which has resulted in fewer infections, parasites and microbes in
our bodies, causes the immune system to turn on healthy tissue instead. Or
it may also be the modern diet, Murray said.
“The types of food we eat now are different,”