Celiac Disease among Whites

celiac disease chart

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease of the digestive system.  Specifically, the disease attacks tiny projections of the small intestine, called villi.  These projections, when healthy, greatly increase the absorptive capacity of the digestive tract for nutrients.  However, for people with celiac disease, these villi are damaged whenever the protein gluten is eaten.  The subsequent loss of nutrients can lead to various other illnesses such as osteoporosis, thyroid disease and cancer

The study I chose took a nationally (U.S.) representative sample and found that celiac occurred with a frequency of 1/141 people, making it a very underdiagnosed disease.  Secondly, it found that the non-Hispanic white population of the U.S. had a much greater incidence of the disease.  Out of 35 studied subjects, only 6 members of racial groups other than white were found to have celiac disease.  The researchers said that “genetic information was not available to confirm genetic risk” although it did correspond to a higher frequency of another gene in non-Hispanic whites.  Other studies have shown that 95% of people with celiac disease have the HLA-DQ2 gene.  While having this disease does not assure that you have or will develop celiac disease, the absence of this gene almost guarantees you will not develop celiac disease.  While this directly ties the disease to the genetic factor, what ties the genetic factor to the racial category must be reproduction and passing down of genes within that category.

Race is a social construct, or as it was said in lecture, “biologically discrete races do not exist”.    However man-made, races unfortunately still affect social classes, placing some people to a disadvantage and thus making them more susceptible to various health concerns.  As Clarence Gravlee said, “it is a vicious cycle: Social inequalities shape the biology of racialized groups, and embodied inequalities perpetuate a racialized view of human biology”.

Alberto Rubio-Tapia, Jonas F. Ludvigsson, Tricia L. Brantrner, Joseph A. Murray and James E. Everhart, “The Prevalence of Celiac Disease in the United States,” American Journal of Gastroenterology 107 (2012): 1538-1544, accessed on July 12, 2013, http://www.nature.com.proxy1.cl.msu.edu/ajg/journal/v107/n10/full/ajg2012219a.html

“Celiac Disease,” last modified July 12, 2013. http://www.celiaccentral.org/Celiac-Disease/21/


This Post Has 1 Comment

  1. Hassan Ahsan says:

    Dan, I enjoyed reading your post on celiac disease. I decided to investigate this health disparity and found that this disease is formed from a reaction to gluten, something that my family has always been concerned about. However, during my research, several websites stated that Celiac disease could affect both men and women. The chart you posted appeared to indicate that women were the overwhelming gender likely to contract celiac disease. In addition to the HLA-DQ2 gene, there is a small number of people that carry the HLA-DQ8 gene and the likelihood increases further if you have a first or second degree cousin that also celiac disease. As a health advocate, I strongly believe that diet can cause epigenetic mutations that make certain diseases genetic and the excess production and consumption of gluten in the western diet is a primary suspect cause of a potential genetic mutation. I do wonder though if the fact that Hispanic whites do not fall in the category of whites at most risk may be connected to their diet. Many traditional cultures tend to eat foods native to their heritage and the Hispanic diet generally does not contain gluten enriched flour foods. Also, I wonder if it is possible for benefits of certain foods to cancel out the negative effects of other foods? Having read other student posts, it appears that diet is the leading causes of many of the health disparities faced by different races.

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