July 27, 2011 Researchers from Umeå University, Sweden and University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, have compiled the first global estimates of celiac disease and associated mortality, just published in the journal PLoS ONE. These estimates suggest that around 42,000 children may die every year from celiac disease, mostly from Africa and Asia.
In the 1930s, before the discovery of the gluten-free diet as the way to manage celiac disease, results from Great Ormond Street Hospital in London1 showed very high mortality among children with celiac disease.
Mostly these days, the disease is well managed by avoiding gluten. However in poorer settings, particularly where other diarrheal diseases are common, questions about gluten intolerance may not be raised, and consequently children may go on to die.
More awareness is needed Prof. Peter Byass, who led the research, said: "Celiac disease may not be one of the world's biggest killers, but it is a readily preventable cause of death. Much more awareness is needed in the poorer parts of the world -- and in particular gluten-bearing food supplements for malnourished children need to be used in the knowledge that they could be harmful to the small proportion suffering from celiac disease."
The research is based on many estimates and assumptions, because there is a huge lack of reliable data on a global basis, and these limitations are discussed in the paper. The authors hope that increased awareness of the consequences of gluten intolerance will lead to better data and saved lives in the future.
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- Peter Byass, Kathleen Kahn, Anneli Ivarsson. The Global Burden of Childhood Coeliac Disease: A Neglected Component of Diarrhoeal Mortality? PLoS ONE, 2011; 6 (7): e22774 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0022774
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