Healthy Living

Celiac Diagnoses Are Soaring. What's Behind This Surge?

There are several theories that try to explain the sudden rise of celiac disease. Which ones have been proven?

Celiac Diagnoses Are Soaring. What's Behind This Surge?

It's true. Many people today have dietary restrictions. Some may have an allergy to nuts, while others might not eat meat or dairy. One diet that is very popular right now is the gluten-free diet. The number of people that are on a gluten-free diet today is only increasing. In fact, as many as 3.1 million Americans are on this diet, and this includes people who have an autoimmune disease known as celiac disease.

People who are on a gluten-free diet have to avoid any food that contains wheat. This includes foods like pasta, desserts, cookies, cakes, salad dressing, and certain sauces. On top of avoiding these foods, those who live gluten-free also have to avoid using products with even just small amounts of gluten, like lipsticks, soaps, and household cleaners. Celiac patients have to try to avoid cross-contamination, as sneaky particles of gluten can even be in items that claim to be "gluten-free."

The number of celiac diagnoses are increasing

Celiac disease is an autoimmune illness that causes the body to have a negative reaction once someone consumes gluten.  Patients typically experience headaches, stomach aches, abdominal pain, fatigue, and general discomfort.

If celiac disease is left untreated, patients can find themselves losing weight and suffering from malnutrition, because they wouldn't be able to absorb essential vitamins from different foods. Celiac patients experience damage in their intestinal track, mainly to the villi, which play an important role in absorption.

Currently, there is no cure for the disease. In fact, a lot of researchers and doctors still do not know much about it. Researchers know that genetics can play a role in how the disease develops, and that the best (and only) way to treat it is following a strict, gluten-free diet.

Research is bringing questions about celiac disease to the forefront. Why are so many people developing celiac disease and gluten intolerance? What is causing this surge? And how can we stop it?

So many theories, so little time. Which ones are being researched?

There are several theories that try to explain why so many people are being diagnosed with celiac disease and gluten intolerance. Some of them are pretty plausible, while others have been debunked and haven't been proven.

Many of them seem to make sense and are logical, there is no proof that they are correct.

Some of the more popular theories are:

  • The book “Wheat Belly” basically took the health world by storm when it was first published. They were also one of the first to suggest that modern scientifically-engineered wheat was the cause for everyone's tummy trouble. The author became a bit of a superstar, appearing on TV and talk shows to warn the world about the evils of whole grains, telling everyone to avoid them all together. However, the reality is that most modern wheat products are the same products that were consumed before.
  • Another popular theory is that herbicides might play a role in the development of celiac disease. While this idea seems plausible, it was quickly put to bed after researchers have found that there was not enough evidence to support it.  
  • Scientists are also looking into why so many people are being affected by celiac disease. However, some researchers believe that babies are developing a sensitivity to gluten because of how early the protein is being introduced. Gluten is used in plenty of baby products, which might be causing them to develop a sensitivity with the protein.

While the above theories seem legitimate, there are other theories that are a little more far-fetched. It doesn't mean that these are not possible, it just means that these are a little harder to prove.

  • The use of microwaves: The idea behind this is that as the popularity of microwaves grew, so did the disease. Perhaps, microwaves changed the composition of food every time it was reheated.
  • Our reliance on plastic ware: It’s no secret that plastic is not good for the body. More people are choosing to move away from plastic products, as more evidence came out about how bad these products are for food and beverages. However, people used to not think twice about using plastic for everything and didn't see the problem with  tossing that Tupperware container in the microwave.
  • The use of diatomaceous earth in the lining of flour containers: This insecticide is used to keep critters out of giant bags of flour that sit in the grocery store and kitchen cupboard.

We know this much: The gluten free diet is becoming a huge trend

Celiac diagnoses might be rising, but there are many people who choose this lifestyle because they believe it to be the healthiest. It's true, because of books like Wheat Belly, people believe that gluten is the bad kid on the block. Even if they do not have celiac disease.  

On top of that, there are plenty of people who self-diagnose themselves with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities, without going to an actual doctor. Others think that living a gluten-free life will make them healthier, which is not always the case.

If more people go on the gluten-free diet without any medical necessity, then those who have a legitimate gluten issue, like celiac disease, get lost in the mix.

Researchers need to study this disease further to answer our questions

So, what next? Well, it's not the easiest question to answer. Researchers need to study the disease further, not only to find out why people develop it, but also why the diagnoses are increasing. They also need to find more ways to prevent it, to treat it, and above all, cure it.

Answering these questions will only help people get back to how their lives were before celiac disease, and also lower patient's risk for other conditions, like cancer and osteoporosis.