How Two Infamous Food Foes Affect our Population
Foe #1: Lactose
Though the true prevalence is unknown to date, in 2000 it was estimated that about 30 million to 50 million American adults were lactose intolerant1.
Primary lactose intolerance usually develops over time after the age of 2 and appears to have a genetic component. Specific populations show high levels of intolerance2:
• 95 % of Asians
• 60 - 80 % of African Americans and Ashkenazi Jews
• 80 - 100 % of American Indians
• 50 - 80 % of Hispanics
Consuming lactose in lactose intolerant individuals may cause mild to severe gastrointestinal distress such as abdominal pain, gas, diarrhea, nausea.
Lactose is primarily found in milk and milk products though many processed foods may also contain small traces that people with lactose intolerance should be aware of. Even medications are capable of containing lactose. Checking the ingredient list for words like milk, whey or curd is the best way to determine if a product contains lactose.
Some people with severe symptoms, or to avoid the burden of constantly taking enzyme pills, choose to eliminate any lactose-laden foods entirely from their diet. This becomes an issue for people whose major source of calcium is milk and mild products because a prolonged calcium deficiency can lead to the brittling of bones and eventually osteoporosis. Lactose intolerant individuals must not only be cautious of the foods/medications they consume but also need to be cognizant of nutritional adequacy (making sure they get everything they nutritionally need).
Foe #2: Gluten
Celiac disease affects 1% of healthy, average Americans. That means at least 3 million people in our country are living with celiac disease—97% of whom are undiagnosed3.
The average length of time it takes for a symptomatic person to be diagnosed with celiac disease in the US is four (4) years. This lengthy delay dramatically increases an individual's risk of developing autoimmune disorders, neurological problems, osteoporosis and even cancer3.
Putting Celiac Disease in Perspective3
• Type 1 Diabetes affects 3 million people; 6% (180,000) of those diagnosed also have celiac disease.
• 610,000 women in the US experience unexplained infertility; 6% (36,600) of these women might never learn that celiac disease is the cause.
• 350,000 people in the United States are living with Down Syndrome; 12% (42,000) of them also have celiac disease.
• The number of people with celiac disease in the U.S. would fill 4,400 Boeing 747 airplanes.
• It would take 936 cruise ships to hold every American with celiac disease.
• Americans with celiac disease could fill Comiskey Park (now US Cellular Field, with 40,000 seats) to watch the Chicago White Sox 55 times.
• U.S. fans with celiac disease could fill Soldier Field, the home of the Chicago Bears, 37 times.
• The number of people with celiac disease in the U.S. is roughly equal to the number of people living in the state of Nevada.
• Alaska, Delaware, Washington DC, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah and Vermont all have populations that are less than 2,200,000; the number of people living with celiac disease in the United States.
Symptoms of celiac disease are treated with dietary intervention involving the complete avoidance of gluten from foods. As the market for gluten-free foods expands, this is becoming a more feasible task although it can remain a daunting feat should the accessibility to gluten-free foods be limited in particular areas.
Although controversy exists, one study has found that up to 50% of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders experience persistent gastrointestinal problems, with mild to moderate degrees of inflammation4. Gluten has not been designated an official culprit of this condition despite claims of some positive results obtained by a popular intervention restricting the gluten foe. Specifically, people have reported relief in autistic symptoms after compliance with a gluten-free, casein-free diet although controlled scientific studies have not confirmed this to date.
1. "Prevalence of Lactose Intolerance." Food Reactions. 2000. Available at http://www.foodreactions.org/intolerance/lactose/prevalence.html
2. "Lactose Intolerance." The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health. 2009. Available at http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/lactoseintolerance/index.aspx#what
3. "Celiac Disease Facts and Figures." University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center.
4. "Gastrointestinal tract problems." Autistic Spectrum Disorders Fact Sheet. Available at http://www.autism-help.org/comorbid-gastrointestinal-disorders.htm