More Evidence for Diet's Value in Celiac Disease

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Celiac disease, an intestinal disorder in which a protein in many grain-based foods called gluten damages the digestive tract, can cause diarrhea, weight loss, and malabsorption of nutrients in its severe form. It even raises the risk for intestinal cancer and death. Granted, many people with the disease have only minimal symptoms and mortality rates that are close to normal. But a new study makes the point that paying strict attention to diet, the standard treatment for the disease, is important for all those afflicted.

Investigators at 11 clinics across Italy followed some 1,000 patients diagnosed with symptomless, mild, or severe celiac disease between 1962 and 1994, finding that mortality rates were higher across the board in those with poor adherence to a gluten-free diet.

More studies are needed, the investigators write, to clarify how celiac disease progresses in those whose symptoms aren't severe. Still, they concluded that "strict dietary treatment decreases mortality in celiac patients" overall. The diet requires avoiding wheat, rye, barley, and (for some) oats--in addition to all foods and ingredients made with those grains or their by-products, including pasta, cakes, and even lunch meats and hot dogs.

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