You may be one of an estimated three million Americans who suffer from a hidden health condition that can cause digestive problems, allergies and a host of autoimmune issues.
The latest research shows that this condition can not only cause illness, but also can shorten your life expectancy.
What’s worse, you might not even know you’re suffering, because this health problem can begin without a single symptom and doctors don’t routinely test for this.
The behind-the-scenes health problem shared by millions of unsuspecting Americans?
It’s the autoimmune reaction to gluten, which consists of certain proteins found in wheat, barley and rye, and in pretty much all foods made with those ingredients.
Many people still consider gluten intolerance, as it’s sometimes called, nothing more than a minor food allergy and scoff at gluten-free options in grocery stores and on menus. But the problem is real, and for the people who have it it’s anything but minor.
“Food Allergy” Behind Life-Threatening Illness
One of the most dramatic demonstrations of the life-shortening threat of celiac disease was revealed in a 12-year study carried out by researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden along with U.S. researchers at Columbia University.
An analysis of the health data of 50,000 people in Sweden with celiac disease revealed that it increased the risk of dying during the research by 21 percent. This shortened life expectancy was true for people of all ages.1
“We have known that celiac disease can cause a number of long-term complications that can impact life expectancy, but this study examines an entire population in the most recent era, at a time when awareness of celiac disease and access to gluten-free food is widespread,” says Benjamin Lebwohl, who directs clinical research at the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University. “Despite this, we found that celiac disease is associated with long-term consequences.”
The study found that folks with celiac disease had an increased risk of earlier death from heart disease, cancer and respiratory disease.
Triggers Deadly Inflammation
The researchers pin much of celiac disease’s life-shortening effects on chronic inflammation. When you have celiac, your body responds to gluten in bread and other foods by becoming inflamed.
Immune cells react to the presence of gluten by going into inflammatory mode and then attacking the body. In the process, the walls of the intestines and other organs can be seriously harmed.
“Celiac disease is characterized by inflammation, which is generally bad for your health,” warns researcher Jonas F. Ludvigsson, a professor of clinical epidemiology at Karolinska. “I am therefore not surprised that we found an increased mortality for a number of causes of death in individuals with celiac disease.”
You Can Have Celiac Disease and not Know it
Research shows that a whopping eight out of ten people with celiac disease don’t know they have it, since people don’t always suffer from obvious signs and symptoms.2
It used to be thought that celiac was mostly a digestive issue that made people lose drastic amounts of weight, suffer persistent loose stools and look pale and anemic. But healthcare practitioners now find you can be overweight and have celiac and your digestion might seem to be normal.
“Our study suggests that the presentation of celiac disease has changed from the classic weight loss, anemia and diarrhea, with increasing numbers of patients diagnosed with non-classical symptoms,” says Mayo Clinic scientist Adam Bledsoe.
This is bad news, because the disease can silently damage your intestinal tract, leaving you unable to absorb vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients necessary for good health and disease prevention.
Nutrient Deficiencies also Damage Health
A study at the Mayo Clinic of more than 300 people diagnosed with celiac disease between the years 2000 to 2014 revealed that many were often lacking in vitamin B12, vitamin D, folate, iron, zinc and copper.3
And these were nutrient shortages the people didn’t ever suspect until they were tested by Mayo Clinic researchers.
“It was somewhat surprising to see the frequency of micronutrient deficiencies in this group of newly diagnosed patients, given that they were presenting fewer symptoms of malabsorption,” says Dr. Bledsoe. “Micronutrient deficiencies remain common in adults, however, and should be assessed (in people with celiac).”
In patients at the Mayo Clinic who were diagnosed with celiac disease, zinc deficiency was the most frequent nutrient deficiency – an incredible 60 percent of the patients had low levels of this mineral.
Studies like this make me wonder if gluten intolerance and other food intolerances aren’t behind some of the extreme nutrient deficiencies we have in this country. It’s worth examining, and hopefully, researchers will take a look at this issue sooner rather than later.
Meanwhile, you don’t have to wait for additional research, or for your doctor to get on board with food sensitivity testing.
How to Know if You Have Celiac Disease
You can get a blood test that reveals if you have an immune response to gluten – the test shows antibodies in the blood from a gluten reaction. Your doctor can perform this test, of course. You can also get a mail-order test to take on your own at home.
However, if you’re already on a gluten-free diet, those antibodies won’t be found.
In addition, a test called an endoscopy – sending a small camera into the digestive tract – can be used to check for intestinal damage from celiac disease.4
If you have any sort of puzzling health issue – brain fog, unexpected heart issues, rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune conditions, even irritable bowel syndrome – you should be checked for celiac disease.5
This one simple test could save you from years of physical suffering and disastrous long-term health consequences.
If you are sensitive to gluten, you’ll need to begin a gluten-free diet to protect your health. That means avoiding food made from wheat, barley and rye. This can include most breads, cookies, rolls, chips, cakes and pastries as well as beer. However, some people suffering celiac may also have a reaction to oats (even if the oats are certified gluten-free).
Eating gluten-free can be a challenge, no doubt. But your health is worth the sacrifice.
Plus, there are lots of gluten-free options available today in grocery stores and restaurants so perhaps you won’t sacrifice much after all. What’s more, you’ll soon have a lot more company: The scientists point out that the rate of celiac disease is increasing, for reasons that nobody has yet been able to explain.