Those who live with celiac disease know that they must be extremely careful with their gluten-free diet and be sure to get their needed vitamins and minerals.
A recent study out of Sweden has given celiac patients another incentive to be careful: their condition may put them at greater risk for cataracts, a clouding of the eye’s lens.
About 2 million Americans have celiac disease, according to the Celiac Disease Awareness Campaign of the the National Institutes of Health. Because it presents itself with a broad range of stomach ailments and other issues, it goes undiagnosed and/or is mistaken for something else in a majority of cases, the NIH said. Celiac disease occurs when the small intestine has an allergic reaction to the protein gluten--such as that found in wheat, barley and rye--and has trouble absorbing nutrients. The results of this malabsorption run the gamut from abdominal pain to fatigue to bone loss to infertility.
It’s hard to say that celiac disease itself causes cataracts, but the theory is that nutritional deficiencies related to celiac might play a part, said lead researcher Dr. Kaziwe Mollazadegan of Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm.
In this large-scale, decade-long study of almost 29,000 Swedish adults diagnosed with celiac disease, the researchers counted 1,159 cases of cataracts among celiac patients, compared with an expected 909 cases among the general population. Seen another way, that’s a forecast of 397 cases of cataracts annually for every 100,000 people with celiac, versus 311 cases forecast for the same number in the general population. An important note, though, from the summary of the study in a June 24, 2011, Reuters Health article: the celiac patients did not seem to develop cataracts at an earlier age than normal; cataracts are usually diagnosed in the elderly.
Like type 1 diabetes, celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder, and previous studies have linked autoimmune issues to cataracts, along with suggesting chronic body-wide inflammation as a contributing factor. It’s not yet clear what specific nutritional deficiencies brought on by celiac disease might eventually lead to cataracts, Mollazadegan told Reuters Health.
For more information about celiac disease, a good place to start is the Awareness Campaign website at www.celiac.nih.gov. Goals of the campaign include not only improving the diagnosis rate for celiac disease, but also getting the word out about the many health consequences associated with the disease.
Reviewed July 7, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Alison Stanton