Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten – the protein in wheat, barley, rye and spelt – is estimated to affect about one in every 133 Americans. This latest study followed 3,511 subjects who gave blood samples in 1974, 1989 and then every two to three years to 2007. It tested blood serum for celiac disease autoimmunity, and found that the incidence of celiac disease in the sample group rose from one in 501 in 1974, to one in 219 in 1989.
It adds to the theory that celiac disease can emerge at any time, rather than predominantly in childhood, the researchers wrote.
Lead author of the paper and co-director of the Center for Celiac Research, Carlo Catassi, of the Universita Politecnica delle Marche in Italy, said: "You're not necessarily born with celiac disease. Our findings show that some people develop celiac disease quite late in life."
However, the authors wrote that the reasons for celiac disease emerging later in life are currently unclear.
“The amount and the quality of ingested gluten, type and duration of wheat dough fermentation, the spectrum of intestinal microbiota and its changes over time, enteric infections, and stressors in general are all possible switches of the tolerance/immune response balance. However, further studies are required to clarify the relevance of these factors in causing loss of gluten tolerance,” they wrote.
The researchers added that if it is possible to pinpoint the reason why increasing numbers of adults appear to be developing celiac disease, it may be possible to prevent its onset. At present, the only available treatment for the autoimmune disorder is avoidance of gluten-containing foods.
Source: Annals of Medicine
Published online ahead of print
“Natural history of celiac disease autoimmunity in a USA cohort followed since 1974”
Authors: Carlo Catassi, Debby Kryszak, Bushra Bhatti, Craig Sturgeon, Kathy Helzlsouer, Sandra L. Clipp, Daniel Gelfond, Elaine Puppa, Anthony Sferruzza and Alessio Fasano.