‘Grain Brain’: Does Celiac Disease Affect Black People More Than We Think?


celiac diseaseBy Tamiya King

It’s no secret that the typical American diet is filled with processed foods and an abundance of carbohydrates. As a result, more and more people, including African-Americans, are developing food allergies and intolerances due to the high amount of chemicals and additives in certain foods. Autoimmune diseases, which are sometimes aggravated as a result of certain foods, can damage the system in many ways. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that more and more Americans are being diagnosed with. Celiac disease is a growing concern for people of all ethnic groups, but was previously thought to be an issue that occurred mostly in people of European or Jewish descent. However, the condition is something individuals with African roots should be cautious of as well.

Studies show that about 1 in every 100 people has the condition, or an intolerance to gluten. African-Americans are included in this number, and growing research suggests that people of African descent may need to reduce the amount of grains in their diets. A number of the health conditions that are common in the African-American community could even be linked to celiac disease.

What Is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease, also called celiac sprue, is a hereditary condition that prohibits a person from properly digesting the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. When a person with celiac disease eats foods containing these ingredients, the lining of the intestines is damaged, which leads to malnourishment.

The disease can also lead to a number of unpleasant symptoms, including hormonal imbalance, migraines, constipation and weight gain. An intolerance to gluten is also linked to serious conditions such as anxiety and depression. Anemia and increased chances of osteoporosis are also the result of celiac disease.

Is Celiac Disease a Problem in the African-American Community?

One of the reasons that Black people should be tested for celiac disease is because the condition is common in those who suffer from Type 1 diabetes. Individuals with thyroid disorders are also more prone to be intolerant to gluten. Black people are 60 percent more likely to develop diabetes than whites, and Black people and Asians are more likely to have a thyroid condition called Graves’ disease than white individuals.

African-Americans are also significantly affected by mental illness, which is still a subject we are somewhat reluctant to discuss. Over 60 percent of African-Americans view depression as a sign of weakness. However, Black adults are 20 percent more likely to experience psychological distress than adult whites. Symptoms of depression can include fatigue, loss of interest in once-enjoyable activities, suicidal thoughts, sleep disturbances and feelings of worthlessness or guilt. Many of these harmful symptoms can be alleviated with the elimination of gluten.

Dietary Solutions

Fortunately, there are a number of gluten-free alternatives at most grocery stores these days. Rice flour, corn meal and quinoa are among the safe options for individuals with celiac disease, and these are often included in flour, pasta and cake mixes. Adopting a gluten-free diet can also reduce your risk of diabetes if you have a family history of blood sugar issues and can enhance your weight-management efforts while improving your overall health.

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