Gluten intolerance doubles in Finland – no suitable criteria for diagnosis exist, says Finnnish expert

The percentage of adults Finns with gluten intolerance has doubled between the early 1980s and the 2000s.

Screening has shown that gluten intolerance occurs in 1.5% of Finnish children and 2.7% of the elderly. 'The higher figure for older people is explained by the fact that the condition becomes more frequent with age,' says Professor Markku Mäki who has set up an internationally acclaimed research team on gluten intolerance, developing screening tests for gluten intolerance. Mäki is head of a research project in the Academy of Finland's Research Programme on Nutrition, Food and Health (ELVIRA).

He notes that a similar trend emerged earlier for allergies and certain autoimmune disorders.

According to Mäki, gluten intolerance may often be symptom-free; indeed, three out of four people with gluten intolerance have not been diagnosed, which also means that they are as yet going without treatment.

Mäki's research team has concluded that the criteria for diagnosing gluten intolerance must be rewritten. The current criteria for diagnosis focus on damage to the intestinal villi and the small intestine, established in a tissue sample from the small intestine. However, early stages of gluten intolerance are not identifiable from tissue samples.

People may suffer from gluten intolerance, yet have no intestinal symptoms. They may, however, have symptoms unrelated to the intestinal tract. Sufferers generally have anaemia due to iron deficiency or folic acid deficiency as their main symptom.

If researchers manage to develop sensitive, accurate antibody tests, it will become possible to identify people with early stages of gluten intolerance, who are in need of further treatment.

Courtesy of AlphaGalileo

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