Punjabi Americans Most Likely to be Diagnosed with Celiac Disease

Americans from the Punjab region in North India most susceptible to the autoimmune disorder that inhibits gluten absorption.

Americans of Indian Punjabi descent who are concerned about gluten sensitivity might want to get tested for Celiac disease.

According to a new study on American patients, Indian-American Punjabis are more likely to be diagnosed with Celiac disease than other ethnicities in the US, and men and women of all ethnicities are equally likely to live with the condition.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that inhibits the body's ability to digest gluten. An autoimmune disorder is one in which the body's immune system, which defends the body against disease, unintentionally attacks itself. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.

Symptoms of celiac disease include indigestion, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, migraines and joint pain. If left untreated, celiac disease can lead to other disorders like diabetes, neurological problems, infertility, intestinal cancers, migraines and other autoimmune disorders like multiple sclerosis (when the body attacks its own nervous system), anemia (lacking healthy red blood cells) and dermatitis herpetiformis (chronically dry and itchy skin).

"While celiac disease was previously thought to be a disease predominantly affecting Caucasian Europeans, it is now recognized as one of the most common hereditary disorders worldwide," study co-author Dr. Benjamin Lebwohl, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, said in a statement. "Our findings help shed light on the distribution of celiac disease in the US and will aid gastroenterologists in diagnosing their patients."

Men and women also shared an equal burden when it came to the risk of living with Celiac disease, according to the study.

"While previous studies have suggested that celiac disease may be more common in female patients, based on our findings we recommend that physicians consider celiac disease in men as often as they consider it in women," Dr. Lebwohl said in the release.

In this study--a collaboration between Columbia University, UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, and All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, India--researchers set out to determine ethnic variations and gender variations within ethnicities for being diagnosed with Celiac disease. The study authors analyzed records from labs that conducted duodenal biopsies, or biopsies of tissue from the small intestine in the stomach, from 2008 to 2015. The ethnicities covered in the study were North Indian, South Indian, East Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, Jewish and other Americans.

While among "other" Americans, the rate of being diagnosed with Celiac disease was 1.83 percent, the rate among Punjabi North Indians was 3.08 percent. Other North Indians were half as likely to be diagnosed with the condition than those of Punjabi descent while patients from South India were diagnosed at a rate of only 0.08 percent. Jewish and Middle Eastern patients were second and third highest with a rate of 1.8 percent and 1.52 percent, respectively. Hispanics had a 1.08 chance of being diagnosed with Celiac while East Asians were 0.15 percent likely.

This study was published May 9 in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences and the National Institutes of Health funded this study.

Researchers declared no conflicts of interest.