When someone develops an autoimmune disease, that person’s immune system attacks the body’s own cells — the cells it’s meant to protect. Tens of millions of people in the United States alone suffer from an autoimmune disease, with a majority of them still undiagnosed. Women are much more likely to develop an autoimmune disease, with estimates suggestion around 75 percent of people with an autoimmune disease are women.
As regular readers and newsletter subscribers know, I emphasize how neither celiac disease nor non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) are allergic reactions. We know that celiac disease is an autoimmune disease, and we suspect that NCGS is more autoimmune in nature.
Although the origins of the phenomenon are unclear and in some circles controversial, we do know celiac disease is becoming more common, and it’s not just that more people are being diagnosed.
Well, it turns out autoimmune diseases on the whole are becoming more common.
According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, diagnoses of autoimmune diseases are rapidly increasing.
For example, between 2001 and 2009, type 1 diabetes increased by 23%. The National Institute of Health reports that 23.5 million Americans suffer from some form of autoimmune disease and that this number is increasing every year. The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA) believes that number is closer to 50 million, and that a vast majority of people suffering from autoimmunity simply aren’t yet diagnosed.
Virginia T. Ladd, President and Executive Director of the AARDA, observed: “With the rapid increase in autoimmune diseases, it clearly suggests that environmental factors are at play due to the significant increase in these diseases. Genes do not change in such a short period of time.”
If you have one autoimmune disease, you are far more likely to have or develop another autoimmune disease. This is the case with celiac disease and why families with a history of any sort of autoimmune disease need to keep their eyes out for any form of gluten intolerance.
If you have one of the celiac genes, HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8, and you have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, you are at a much greater risk of developing celiac disease.
Why are so many more people developing autoimmune diseases? While there are many theories, it’s largely still a mystery. I certainly have my own theories, which I’ll share over time on this site and to my newsletter subscribers.