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Celiac Disease on the Rise in U.S.
Date:8/20/2011

medical experts don't believe that the increase in celiac disease incidence can be chalked up simply to folks becoming more aware of the chronic digestive disorder or to improvements in diagnostic techniques.

Rather, the most popular potential explanations for the increase in celiac disease rates involve improvements in sanitation and hygiene in civilization overall, said Fasano and Carol McCarthy Shilson, executive director of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center.

According to the "hygiene hypothesis," Shilson said, people in industrialized countries are more at risk for celiac disease because their bodies have not had to fight off as many diseases.

"We're just too clean a society, so our immune systems aren't as developed as they should be," she said.

Another version of the hypothesis holds that the cleanliness of industrialized society has caused a fundamental change in the composition of the digestive bacteria contained within the gut, Fasano said.

"It's because this increase occurs primarily in industrialized countries, where things are cleaner," Fasano said. "We abuse antibiotics, we wash our hands too often, we are vaccinated more often."

Other potential explanations for the rise in celiac disease rates, according to Fasano, include:

  • An increase in the amount of gluten found in grains. "We eat grains that are much more rich in glutens than they were 70 or 80 years ago," he said.
  • Children being exposed to gluten from an early age. "We know for sure if we introduce grains too early, people at risk for developing celiac disease are more likely to contract it," he said.
  • Too few women breast-feeding their children. "There are theories out there that say breast-feeding will protect you, or prevent celiac disease," Fasano said.

It's possible, experts say, that each of these theories is correct to a degree and that a combination of factors will ultimately be found to contribute
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