Let me just say the topic is fascinating: The fact that President John F. Kennedy may have had celiac disease. A new article out today on IrishCentral.com brings the historical discussion back into view.
There is evidence that Kennedy may have actually suffered from celiac disease along with many other ailments he had (some of the ailments could in my layman’s perspective be considered symptoms of celiac.)
This is not new information however. Kennedy’s health records came out more than 10 years ago and that is when the celiac discussion began. But that doesn’t mean the subject isn’t worth revisiting
JFK and Celiac Timeline:
2002: John F. Kennedy’s medical records of his last eight years of life went public
November 17, 2002: New York Times first reports all of Kennedy’s health ailments.
November 18, 2002: PBS NewsHour discusses it. Only the PBS transcript is now available to read.
Both stories uncovered a history of hiding his chronic pain and illness to the world. Kennedy started having abdominal pain when he was 13. He was diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder Addison’s Disease in the late 1940s. And had his first of several back surgeries in 1944. Neither of these pieces said he had or was suspected to have had celiac disease.
November 2002: Peter Green, M.D. of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University Medical Center writes about Kennedy’s possible celiac connection for the History News Network (HNN –the article cited in today’s IrishCentral.com piece). He wrote:
In Kennedy’s adolescence, gastrointestinal symptoms, weight and growth problems as well as fatigue were described. Later in life, he suffered from abdominal pain, diarrhea, weight loss, osteoporosis, migraine and Addison’s disease. Chronic back problems, due to osteoporosis resulted in several operations and required medications for chronic pain. He was extensively evaluated in major medical centers including the Mayo Clinic and hospitals in Boston, New Haven and New York. Among the multiple diagnoses were ulcers, colitis, spastic colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and food allergies.
His medications included corticosteroids, antispasmotics, Metamucil and Lomotil. However it is not clear that his physicians obtained a definitive diagnosis.
Review of this medical history raises the possibility that JFK had celiac disease. – Peter Green, M.D.
September 1, 2009: Lee R. Mandel, M.D. did a report for the Annals of Internal Medicine. He believes Kennedy’s main issue was autoimmune polyendocrine syndrome type 2 (APS 2). WebMD describes APS 2: “there is a steep drop in production of several essential hormones by the glands that secrete these hormones”. It can be referred to as Schmidt’s Disease and is often associated with Addison’s disease, Diabetes Mellitus and thyroid insufficiency.
It was with Mandel’s report that I first covered Kennedy’s possible celiac connection back on September 11, 2009. Mandel’s report also said “the incidence of celiac disease is much higher in patients with autoimmune adrenal and thyroid disease, an interesting fact given that Kennedy had gastrointestinal symptoms (cramping, diarrhea, inability to gain weight) for most of his life.
Today’s article in Irish Central also discusses the Kennedy’s Irish heritage being a risk factor for celiac disease, it quoted Green’s mention of it in the HNN artricle. Celiac “is now recognized as being very common in those of European descent, one of the most common genetically determined conditions physicians will encounter. Recent studies have demonstrated the country with the greatest prevalence to be Ireland. In Belfast one in one hundred and twenty two have the illness,” Green said back in 2002.
Green suggests in the HNN piece, “A diagnosis of celiac disease, if it had been made could have been treated by diet alone. This would have prevented all the manifestations of the disease and its complications.” Green later said in a 2008 interview with US News and World Report that Kennedy “never received the blood test and intestinal biopsy that could have revealed celiac disease.”
If you’re a history buff, please take a closer look at all of the links provided here, there is much more interesting information to be had.