Are You Over 50? Why Gluten Might Be Your Hidden Enemy

Some people may dismiss the gluten-free movement as a mere dietary fad, but medical research increasingly reveals that gluten issues pose a significant health risk. While many outgrow their allergies as they age, gluten intolerance is a problem you can actually grow into, and left ignored, can even threaten your life.

When Gluten Issues Were Considered a Problem for Kids

Celiac disease, an autoimmune reaction to gluten which can destroy the walls of the small intestine, used to be seen as a childhood illness. It wasn’t until World War II that scientists identified gluten as the culprit responsible for celiac disease among children. The available demographics at the time resulted in the assumption that older adults couldn’t develop the disease.

In the early 1940s, bread shortages during the war offered more clarity on the disease. Many children suffering from celiac disease saw an improvement in their health, but once bread became available again, they fell sick. Willem-Karel Dicke, a Dutch doctor, was the one to establish the link between wheat proteins and celiac disease with his thesis in 1950. He identified wheat, barley, and rye as triggers for celiac.

Growing Concern Among Adults

Celiac disease was initially thought to be a digestive disease limited to children. However, research now shows that it is increasingly affecting older adults. Statistics prove that a significant percentage of people diagnosed with the disease are above the age of 50, with one in three individuals over 65. Astonishingly, it is estimated that between two and three million Americans have celiac disease, with 95% unaware they have the condition.

This high rate of undiagnosed disease poses significant health risks. Older adults may already struggle to absorb nutrients sufficiently, and if they have celiac disease, which disrupts proper digestion, nutrient absorption will only get worse.

Micronutrient shortage, including iron, is the reason why up to 80% of older people with celiac disease suffer from anemia. They frequently experience deficiencies in folate and vitamin B12 as well. Additionally, the disease can interfere with the absorption of calcium and vitamin D, nutrients required to maintain bone strength and protect against a broad range of diseases.

The Link to Autoimmune Issues

Celiac disease also increases the risk of developing other autoimmune dysfunctions. Autoimmune thyroid issues are common among people with celiac disease, with many older adults suffering from an underactive thyroid.

Some of the most prevalent signs of celiac disease include:

  • Frequent stomach aches and cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Anemia
  • Depression
  • Persistent fatigue
  • Memory problems
  • Muscle cramps
  • Nerve tingling in hands and feet

Gluten and Headaches

Recent studies also point to a possible connection between gluten and severe headaches. In one study published in the Journal of Headache Pain, researchers underscored that cutting out wheat might be an important step in relieving headaches. Furthermore, additional research identified migraines as one of several neurological issues linked to celiac disease.

While experts cannot fully explain why older individuals have increased susceptibility to gluten reactions, it’s clear that adopting a gluten-free diet can make a significant difference to your health if gluten negatively affects you.