Is Celiac Disease On the Rise?
Self-diagnosing celiac disease is a problem. Yet gluten is becoming an increasing issue for many.
While all food trends are potentially dangerous, some seem to stick in the public imagination more than others. Few have gained the acceptance, and notoriety, as gluten, a composite of proteins found in grass-related grains that, if you believe some holistic blogs, is responsible for most of society’s (and your digestive system’s) ails.
Or, more specifically, celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder affecting the small intestine which results in a host of gastrointestinal-related problems, including chronic diarrhea, malabsorption, nausea, fatigue, and distention. There is no argument that gluten is a cause of this. What is argued is how many people actually have it (as compared to how many self-diagnosed because they read it on a blog) and, more interestingly, other potential causes not discussed as often.
If untreated celiac disease can lead to cancer and early death; quality of life is greatly reduced in the meantime. Exact numbers of celiac disease sufferers are hard to pinpoint because symptoms are more prevalent in some than others. In some regions it is estimated that 1 percent of the population suffers; in others, the number is closer to one in forty.
A genetic prerequisite greatly enhances the possibility you’ll acquire celiac disease; roughly 40 percent of people are born with this disposition. Yet not everyone will get it in their lifetime, making it even harder to understand.
Add to this the fact that gluten has health benefits that are often overlooked. More specifically, gluten’s delivery mechanisms, such as wheat, rye, spelt, and barley, as well as its popular incarnation as the foundation of imitation meats, provide necessary fiber while delivering protein and dietary minerals. In developed nations with diverse menus gluten can generally be avoided, but in many countries wheat, and therefore gluten, is a necessity.
While celiac might be in the heads of the holistically minded, there is actual cause for concern: celiac disease is, like bread in fermentation, on the rise. Over 31,000 infants born at a Denver hospital between 1993 and 2004 were tested for a genetic predisposition to celiac disease; over thirteen-hundred of these children were tracked for two decades. The results indicated an increase in the disease, much higher than the expected 1 percent in developed nations. By age fifteen more than 3 percent of those children had acquired it.
Celiac disease only started being diagnosed in the first years of this century, making it difficult to track long-term increases. Yet one Minnesota study compared blood samples taken from young adults in the Air Force in the fifties with a similar age group starting in 1995 and found an .8 percent increase, from .2 percent to the national average of 1 percent. It appears that rates are indeed increasing.
As researchers learn more about the disease gluten is not considered the only culprit. In a half-century—using such reverse-engineering tactics as in Minnesota—rates have gone from negligible to 2 to 3 percent of children. Doctors are considering the idea that risk factors are also environmental:
Some of the more unusual candidates blamed for triggering celiac disease include microwaves, plasticware, and diatomaceous earth—an abrasive powder applied to flour containers as an insecticide—although scientific evidence to incriminate these supposed culprits is scant.
Also being considered are Caesarian section births and intestinal infections. It is known that our reliance on antibiotics has negatively impacted our microbiome, which could also play a role in the formation of many diseases, including celiac.
While these are mostly speculative, gluten remains the only clear cause of celiac disease, though even here it’s difficult to assess why that is. One reason, which I wrote about last year, could be time: rushing the fermentation process of bread makes it harder to digest. A proper loaf needs a day or two to get where it needs to go, which is, eventually, inside of our stomachs. Long rise times breaks down phytic acid and slows the absorption of starch.
Researchers are working on developing remedies. Early vaccines are showing success, while inserting intestinal parasites may result in a stronger immune response. Gluten-targeting proteases might also break down gluten molecules. For the moment the only silver bullet is avoiding gluten completely.
In 2015 gluten-free products brought in 2.79 billion in the United States alone. The term ‘gluten-free’ is often synonymous with ‘healthy,’ but it’s not: replacement starches, emulsifiers, and sugars wage their own wars in your microbiome. The quick and easy way is rarely the most beneficial.
Professionals believe the dietary trend is harming and not helping combat the disease. The problem of self-diagnosis means potential sufferers are skewing statistics, making it harder for researchers to pinpoint and treat celiac disease. The perfect storm of misinformation and business interests is striking at a time when thorough and credible research is needed. Our intestines are the victims just as we’re realizing how important what we put into our body is. Fake breads, like fake meats, are just that. Don’t be seduced by the packaging—what goes inside matters.
Derek's next book, Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health, will be published on 7/17 by Carrel/Skyhorse Publishing. He is based in Los Angeles. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
The world's getting hotter, and it's getting more volatile. We need to start thinking about how climate change encourages conflict.
- Climate change is usually discussed in terms of how it impacts the weather, but this fails to emphasize how climate change is a "threat multiplier."
- As a threat multiplier, climate change makes already dangerous social and political situations even worse.
- Not only do we have to work to minimize the impact of climate change on our environment, but we also have to deal with how it affects human issues today.
Human beings are great at responding to imminent and visible threats. Climate change, while dire, is almost entirely the opposite: it's slow, it's pervasive, it's vague, and it's invisible. Researchers and policymakers have been trying to package climate change in a way that conveys its severity. Usually, they do so by talking about its immediate effects: rising temperature, rising sea levels, and increasingly dangerous weather.
These things are bad, make no mistake about it. But the thing that makes climate change truly dire isn't that Cape Cod will be underwater next century, that polar bears will go extinct, or that we'll have to invent new categories for future hurricanes. It's the thousands of ancillary effects — the indirect pressure that climate change puts on every person on the planet.
How a drought in the Middle East contributed to extremism in Europe
(DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Nigel Farage in front of a billboard that leverages the immigration crisis to support Brexit.
Because climate change is too big for the mind to grasp, we'll have to use a case study to talk about this. The Syrian civil war is a horrific tangle of senseless violence, but there are some primary causes we can point to. There is the longstanding conflicts between different religious sects in that country. Additionally, the Arab Spring swept Syria up in a wave of resistance against authoritarian leaders in the Middle East — unfortunately, Syrian protests were brutally squashed by Bashar Al-Assad. These, and many other factors, contributed to the start of the Syrian civil war.
One of these other factors was drought. In fact, the drought in that region — it started in 2006 — has been described as the "worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilization began in the Fertile Crescent many millennia ago." Because of this drought, many rural Syrians could no longer support themselves. Between 2006 and 2009, an estimated 1.5 million Syrians — many of them agricultural workers and farmers — moved into the country's major cities. With this sudden mixing of different social groups in a country where classes and religious sects were already at odds with one another, tensions rose, and the increased economic instability encouraged chaos. Again, the drought didn't cause the civil war — but it sure as hell helped it along.
The ensuing flood of refugees to Europe is already a well-known story. The immigration crisis was used as a talking point in the Brexit movement to encourage Britain to leave the EU. Authoritarian or extreme-right governments and political parties have sprung up in France, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Slovenia, and other European countries, all of which have capitalized on fears of the immigration crisis.
Why climate change is a "threat multiplier"
This is why both NATO and the Pentagon have labeled climate change as a "threat multiplier." On its own, climate change doesn't cause these issues — rather, it exacerbates underlying problems in societies around the world. Think of having a heated discussion inside a slowly heating-up car.
Climate change is often discussed in terms of its domino effect: for example, higher temperatures around the world melt the icecaps, releasing methane stored in the polar ice that contributes to the rise in temperature, which both reduces available land for agriculture due to drought and makes parts of the ocean uninhabitable for different animal species, wreaking havoc on the food chain, and ultimately making food more scarce.
Maybe we should start to consider climate change's domino effect in more human and political terms. That is, in terms of the dominoes of sociopolitical events spurred on by climate change and the missing resources it gobbles up.
What the future may hold
(NASA via Getty Images)
Increasingly severe weather events will make it more difficult for nations to avoid conflict.
Part of why this is difficult to see is because climate change does not affect all countries proportionally — at least, not in a direct sense. Germanwatch, a German NGO, releases a climate change index every year to analyze exactly how badly different countries have been affected by climate change. The top five most at-risk countries are Haiti, Zimbabwe, Fiji, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. Notice that many of these places are islands, which are at the greatest risk for major storms and rising sea levels. Some island nations are even expected to literally disappear — the leaders of these nations are actively making plans to move their citizens to other countries.
But Germanwatch's climate change index is based on weather events. It does not account for the political and social instability that will likely result. The U.S. and many parts of Europe are relatively low on the index, but that is precisely why these countries will most likely need to deal with the human cost of climate change. Refugees won't go from the frying pan into the fire: they'll go to the closest, safest place available.
Many people's instinctive response to floods of immigrants is to simply make borders more restrictive. This makes sense — a nation's first duty is to its own citizens, after all. Unfortunately, people who support stronger immigration policies tend to have right-wing authoritarian tendencies. This isn't always the case, of course, but anecdotally, we can look at the governments in Europe that have stricter immigration policies. Hungary, for example, has extremely strict policies against Muslim immigrants. It's also rapidly turning into a dictatorship. The country has cracked down on media organizations and NGOs, eroded its judicial system's independence, illegalized homelessness, and banned gender studies courses.
Climate change and its sociopolitical effects, such as refugee migration, aren't some poorer country's problem. It's everyone's problem. Whether it's our food, our homes, or our rights, climate change will exact a toll on every nation on Earth. Stopping climate change, or at least reducing its impact, is vitally important. Equally important is contending with the multifaceted threats its going to throw our way.
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