Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease involving a reaction in the gut to gliadin, the gluten protein found in wheat, barley and rye. This gut reaction destroys the body’s own intestinal lining cells, a process known as autoimmunity. The treatment of celiac disease is complete avoidance of gluten and gluten-containing foods. If not treated properly, the autoimmunity can manifest in other areas of the body, like the joints or the thyroid gland.

A recent study set out to determine at what age people develop celiac disease. Every 15 years since 1974 the number of people with celiac disease has doubled. As it turns out, the incidence of celiac disease in the elderly is almost two and a half times higher than the general population. This counters the previous perception that celiac disease usually develops during childhood.

So what factors may be leading to this late-life loss of tolerance to gluten?

Studies will need to be done to determine the exact environmental triggers, but I suspect that these people may have been living for years with either silent celiac disease (yes, celiac can exist in the gut with no symptoms at all) or the milder form of gluten sensitivity.

So many people improve their health status when they eliminate gluten. Why wait until you’re elderly to find out what it might do? Try a gluten-free diet if you think that you might be sensitive.