New research out Friday looks deeply into President John F. Kennedy’s autoimmune disorders and how undiagnosed celiac disease (also an autoimmune disorder) likely caused even more health troubles.

The senior medical officer on the USS George H. W. Bush aircraft carrier Dr. Lee Mandel has a particular interest in presidential medicine.  He conducted his own research and investigated Kennedy’s medical records which were released in 2002.  American Medical News reported Friday says the research* found diagnoses of Addison’s Disease and hypothyroidism — both autoimmune disorders.

“‘I saw the common thread that other people had commented on casually,’ Dr Mandel said in an interview. ‘I think he did have an autoimmune syndrome.'”

“Autoimmune thyroid disease coexists with Addison’s disease in two-thirds of cases. APS 2 typically occurs in early adulthood, at around age 30, the age Kennedy was when Addison’s disease was diagnosed, Dr. Mandel said.” – American Medical News

The report also says the autoimmune issues ran in the family: JFK’s sister Ethel also had Addison’s Disease, and his son John F. Kennedy, Jr. had Graves’ disease.

“Kennedy also had intestinal ailments likely caused by undiagnosed celiac disease,” Dr. Mandel said in the story.

Dr. Peter Green, Director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University talked about Kennedy’s possible celiac disease in an article published in US News and World Report in September of 2008:

“Though Kennedy managed to hide his symptoms from public view, he suffered from a slew of ailments that hint at celiac disease, including abdominal pain, diarrhea, migraines, and osteoporosis. Throughout Kennedy’s life, doctors diagnosed him with ulcers, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and food allergies, but their treatments never seemed to help much. He never received the blood testing and intestinal biopsy that might have revealed celiac disease. —US News and World Report

Neither article was sure enough to make an official diagnosis of celiac disease.  That may never happen.  But it is very interesting that it’s possible even a world leader with access to the best doctors in the world may have had undiagnosed celiac.  Granted it was the early 1960s– but nevertheless, interesting.

*note: this research was published September 1, 2009 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

One Response to “Likely Celiac Disease and Autoimmune Trouble for JFK”

  1. adventuresofaglutenfreemom
    September 11th, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    Wow, that is fascinating! I love your articles Amy, I learn something new everyday. You are a great asset to the CD community 🙂

    My dad is from Austin, Minnesota (my grandpa worked for Hormel back in the 30’s and 40’s). My uncle was the superintendent of schools in Milaca and my cousin is a co-owner of Fitger’s Brewhouse in Duluth).


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