By Laura (The Gluten-Free Traveller)

Is autoimmune disease becoming more common or is it simply that more and more people are being diagnosed with autoimmune diseases, which in the past would have gone undetected? And if it really is becoming more prevalent, why should this be the case?

Recent reports on diagnosis rates show that celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, lupus and a variety of other autoimmune disorders are being diagnosed at a higher rate than ever before.

Between 2001 and 2009, the American Diabetes Association reported a 23% increase in type 1 diabetes. A similar association in Finland observed a similar rate of increase. It is thought that celiac disease affects around 1 in 133 Americans and many other countries have similar if not higher rates.

Dr. Frederick Miller of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences believes that the increase in autoimmune disease is the result of both genetic and environmental factors.

“The best way to combat the rise in autoimmune diseases is to do research to understand the genetic and environmental risk factors for them, so that those who are at highest risk for developing disease after certain environmental exposures might be able to minimize those exposures and prevent the development of autoimmune disease”

Approximately 50 million American suffer from autoimmune disease. This means 20% of the population or one in every five people. What huge numbers! Of course many of the people affected have no idea. Interestingly, women are most likely to develop autoimmune disorders than men, 3 times more likely in fact.

Is autoimmune disease on the rise or are people becoming more aware of the symptoms and, therefore, being diagnosed?

Are modern environmental factors playing a part? Could genetic modifications to food be a factor? Modern wheat, for example, is said to be very different from ancient wheat. Some research states that autoimmune diseases need a trigger to turn them on – are we more stressed than we used to be?