What A Silly Yak I Am!

Steve Layman

Steve Layman

Steve Layman, one of my friends and a Hewlett-Packard co-worker, died of Non-Hodgkins lymphoma a couple of weeks ago a month short of his 44th birthday and four months short of his tenth wedding anniversary.  My dad died of the same disease when he was 44. But this is not a story about Steve nor of my father, but is a call to action for anyone reading my blog.

You see, I have a hereditary condition called Celiac Disease and a study published in the January 2009 issue of the journal Gastroenterology finds that patients with celiac disease and their family members have an increased risk of developing lymphomas.

Symptoms include chronic foul-smelling diarrhea, failure to thrive, and fatigue, but these may be absent while symptoms in other organ systems have been described, such as thyroid conditions, Crohn’s disease, IBS, and many more.

Celiac disease is caused by a reaction to gliadin, a gluten protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Upon exposure to gliadin, and other similar protiens, the enzyme tissue transglutaminase modifies the protein, and the immune system cross-reacts with the small-bowel tissue, causing an inflammatory reaction which causes the villi lining the small intestine to die off. The only known effective treatment is a lifelong gluten-free diet.

According to my mother, my father showed none of the symptoms that I did before I was diagnosed, but  a growing portion of diagnoses are being made in people with no outward sign of the disease as a result of increased screening. Although it remains unclear what the actual link between celiac and lymphoma is, the researchers speculate that celiac disease leads to inflammation and that inflammation drives the development of lymphomas.

The researchers suggest two key messages from the findings. First, that early detection of celiac disease can help decrease the risk of developing lymphoma. This was evident when researchers examined the link between celiac and lymphoma in the 1970s and compared it to rates today.

What’s more interesting to me is that people with a family history of celiac disease have a higher risk of developing lymphoma, which may suggest an “underlying mechanism that leads to both celiac disease and lymphoma.” Well, that’s nice to know.

So what’s the bottom line? If you have any problems whatsoever digesting wheat, or you have any of the symptoms listed above, get tested for celiac disease. And if you’re positive, routinely test your family members. An early diagnosis and treatment with a gluten-free diet could help prevent developing cancer later in life.

And as for the title of this blog posting? Say “Silly Yak” quickly and have someone else tell you what they heard.

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