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The Science of Celiac

The number of cases of celiac disease is on the rise. Is celiac disease the new black, or is something else going on? Everyday Einstein explains.

By
Lee Falin, PhD
5-minute read
Episode #63

The number of cases of celiac disease, (or coeliac, as it is spelled in the UK), is on the rise. The current estimates are that 1 out of every 100 people have celiac disease. So what's the cause of this increase in cases? Is it part of an anti-gluten conspiracy? Is celiac just the cool new thing in disease diagnosis? Let's learn more..

As I mentioned in a previous episode, wheat contains a protein-complex called gluten. Gluten proteins stick to one another and to other things in flour to form what is called the "gluten matrix." This property is where gluten gets its name, from the latin word for "sticky." When yeast is added to dough, it generates carbon dioxide which tries to escape from the dough, and pushes against this gluten matrix on its way out, causing the dough to rise. 

When you eat this gluteny goo and it reaches your intestines, an enzyme in your body called tissue transglutaminase (tTG) breaks the gluten up for digestion by binding itself to the gluten and breaking bits off. 

Normally this is no big deal, but sometimes your immune system sees these bits of gluten with tTG stuck to them and goes into overzealous security guard mode, thinking: "Hey that looks suspicious. Attack!" So a bunch of antibodies get created which stick to the tTG/gluten bits so that they can be destroyed by your immune system. Unfortunately your intestines suffer collateral damage in this attack, which leads to all sorts of issues. 

Signs of Celiac

Gluten Free Meal Plans

Celiac disease used to be relatively hard to diagnose because it doesn't have a distinct set of symptoms. The most common symptoms are chronic diarrhea or constipation. Sometimes there is abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, and fatigue. 

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Please note that archive episodes of this podcast may include references to Everyday Einstein. Rights of Albert Einstein are used with permission of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Represented exclusively by Greenlight.

About the Author

Lee Falin, PhD

Dr. Lee Falin earned a B.S. in Computer Science from the University of Illinois, then went on to obtain a Ph.D. in Genetics, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology from Virginia Tech.