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Gluten Allergies Account For “˜Modestly Increased’ Death Risk

September 16, 2009

People with gluten allergies, also known as celiac disease, are at an increased risk of death, according to new research.

Celiac disease occurs in about one percent of the Western population. It is an immune-mediated disorder in which exposure to gluten can cause impaired digestion of nutrients through the small intestine, with symptoms including frequent diarrhea and weight loss.

Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association on Tuesday, scientists found that the risk of death among people with celiac disease was “modestly increased.”

Scientists had previously been unable to determine the long-term impact of nonspecific small-intestinal inflammation caused by celiac disease.

“Research on other inflammatory disorders suggests that inflammation may be associated with increased mortality, but this has not been investigated for nonspecific inflammation in the small intestine,” said researchers.

Jonas F. Ludvigsson of ×rebro University Hospital, ×rebro, Sweden, and colleagues used data from biopsies taken between July 1969 and February 2008 in Sweden to determine the risk of death in patients with celiac disease and inflammation.

They found that individuals with inflammation had a 72 percent increased risk of death, while patients with celiac disease had a 39 percent increased risk. Furthermore, patients with latent celiac disease (defined as “positive celiac disease serology in individuals with normal intestinal mucosa”) had a 35 percent increased risk of death.

Researchers reported 3,049 deaths among patients with celiac disease, 2,967 deaths in patients with inflammation, and 183 deaths with latent celiac disease.

“Malnutrition of energy and vitamins and chronic inflammation may increase the risk of death,” said Ludvigsson.

“In conclusion, we found increased [risks] for death in individuals with biopsy-verified celiac disease, inflammation, and latent celiac disease, although absolute risks were small. Individuals undergoing small-intestinal biopsy in childhood had increased [risks] for death. Cardiovascular disease and malignancy were the main causes of death in celiac disease,” scientists wrote.

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