Is Celiac Even More Common Than We First Thought?

New research suggests that celiac disease could be even more common than previously thought. It is currently believed that celiac disease affects around 1 in 100 people but a new Australian study suggests that the number affected could be more like one in 60 Australian women and one in 80 men.

Researchers led by Walter and Eliza Hall and scientists from Barwon Health and Deakin University developed a new kind of diagnosis test to screen for celiac disease. This screening process includes the usual antibody test but also adds a genetic test which looks for two key genetic markets, which are carried by 99.6% of people with celiac disease.

Results of the first study to assess the prevalence of celiac disease in Australians showed that 56% of the population carry one of the two known genetic markers associated with the autoimmune disorder. We must remember however that whilst a huge percentage of the population may have a genetic predisposition to the disease, not everyone will go on to develop it.

More than 2700 people took part in this decade-long study. Initial testing showed that whilst 37% of the people were genetically predisposed to celiac disease, just one person has been diagnosed. On repeat testing a decade later, six more people had been diagnosed; still a very small number compared with the number of people who probably have the disease.

“About one in 40 who carry the genetic markers will go on to develop coeliac disease,” said  gastroenterologist Dr Tye-Din. “There is a lot of coeliac disease out there but a large amount isn’t being picked up by doctors in the community.”

Very interesting research and I look forward to further studies on the prevalence of celiac disease in other countries, including the US. Could the future see a world where one in 60 women and one in 80 men have celiac disease…

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