By Aly Walansky
Updated June 02, 2016
© Martin Shields / Alamy

We still have a lot to learn about celiac disease, but a recent study claims what we think we know, may be wrong.

The immune-based, gluten sensitivity disease, which affects almost 1.8 million Americans, was originally believed to mostly impact Caucasians with European ancestry. However, a study published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology reveals that its roots are in India’s Punjab region.

In the study, researchers, lead by Dr. Benjamin Lebwohl, assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology at the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University Medical Center, observed data from 400,000 intestinal biopsies and found the highest rate of the disease among people with ancestors from India’s Punjab region. The disease is less common in US residents from South Indian, East Asian and Hispanic ancestry.

“The Northern region of India has seen an increase in the autoimmune disease. There are many cultures with genetic diseases passed on through generations. Since we are becoming more publicly aware of Celiac disease this can be one of the reasons why we are seeing a higher rate of people from the Punjab region with the disease,” says Alexandra Golovac, a certified nutrition coach.

Another reason why this area of India has an increasing rate of the disease can be due to their high consumption of wheat. “Wheat products are a very large part of the cuisine and gastronomy of the culture. Different doughs are prepared and consumed as part of daily meals, which means gluten intake is quite high among the people of this region. The quality of the wheat grown in Northern India can also be a contributing factor to the decline in health of that specific region,” says Golovac.

The study also found that previous results stating the disease predominately impacted women were wrong. The results showed no difference between the sexes. This is important information since often the symptoms are overlooked in men, because of this misconception.

As more research is completed into a disease that so widely affects Americans, perhaps your cousin who jumps on every diet bandwagon may actually have a valid issue.