Healthy Obsessions

The Adventures of a Mild Obsessive Compulsive

How Celiac Became the Disease Du Jour

This is my theory. I make no claims of scientific thoroughness, just some logical extrapolations.

Baby boomers.

Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964, so we’re talking about an age range of 48 to 66. The baby boomers are getting older and beginning to hit senior citizenship. Understandably, they’re getting most of the focus of the medical industry at the moment. Things don’t work quite as well as they used to, but they still work well enough that care is optimistic instead of palliative, and people in that age range, on average, are already established. They have health insurance.  They probably have more money than, say, a 22 year old would. So that explains the focus on their generation.

Part 2 of the puzzle has to do with what happened when the baby boomers were kids.

At that time, celiac disease was considered a childhood illness that one could grow out of. Sprue was a more common name then (and that’s what my Grandma still calls it). A fair number of baby boomers were diagnosed with celiac disease; makes sense, the disease hadn’t really been diagnosed before the 1940s. Those children were put on gluten free diets.

After you’ve been on a gluten free diet long enough, your body recovers. It regrows the villi in your intestine. You regain the ability to process other foods (like dairy, which is the first to go when your villi start taking damage).

When the baby boomers were kids, that recovery was considered permanent. So, after a long enough time, the kids were told they no longer had celiac disease and could go back to eating gluten. Because the damage from celiac disease tends to accrue over time, the kids didn’t show immediate severe symptoms.

Not all the symptoms of celiac disease are obvious, hence the appropriately titled Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic. Basically any condition that can be caused by either vitamin deficiency or inflammation can be a result of celiac disease. Doesn’t guarantee that it’s a result of celiac disease, just means that there’s a huge number of potential symptoms. This makes it harder to diagnose.

So we have these kids who have been told they’ve outgrown celiac disease who go back to eating gluten. They develop symptoms that are unpleasant, but not life threatening. What’s more, the symptoms aren’t always the obvious intestinal ones. And because the American medical institution believed for a very long time that celiac disease was ONLY a childhood disease, that means these now-adults weren’t diagnosed with it. It likely didn’t even occur to them or their doctors.

Nifty diagram of Secondary Celiac Symptoms from http://allergiesandceliac.blogspot.com

Instead, the doctors diagnosed them with the secondary conditions that were just symptoms, not the source of the problem. Heart burn? We have medication for that. Hormonal irregularities? We can treat that. Frequent respiratory infections? Happens. And we can treat that, too. Infertility? Well, it’s hard to know what causes that.

But the baby boomers are getting older, and this is when the damage from celiac disease takes a huge toll. Arthritis, osteoperosis, anemia, vitamin deficiencies, depression, neuropathy, fatigue… The body doesn’t have the benefits of youth to offset those symptoms. So the baby boomers go in to their doctors and they demand something be done. So it is.

So, yes. Celiac disease is the latest fad. That doesn’t mean, however, that it isn’t real.

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