Central America in Transition: From Maize to Wheat Challenges and Opportunities

Nutrients. 2015 Aug 26;7(9):7163-71. doi: 10.3390/nu7095330.


The Central American countries: Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama are in transition from a dietary culture based mainly on maize to a wheat-containing diet. Several other changes are occurring, such as a decrease of parasitic and infectious diseases. The environmental changes permit a prediction of an increase of celiac disease and other autoimmune diseases such as type I diabetes and thyroid disease in these genetically heterogeneous countries. At present, celiac disease and gluten-related disorders are considered to be of no relevance at the level of public health in these nations. This review documents the presence of celiac disease in Central America. It draws attention to some of the challenges in planning systematic studies in the region since up until recently celiac disease was unknown. The aim of this review is to disseminate knowledge obtained with preliminary data, to stimulate clinical and basic scientists to study these diseases in Central America and to alert authorities responsible for the planning of education and health, to find possibilities to avoid a rise in these disorders before the epidemics start, as has occurred in the Mediterranean countries.

Keywords: Central America; HLA-DQ; anti-Endomysium antibodies; celiac disease; hygiene hypothesis; old-friend hypothesis; prevalence; serological tests; tissue transglutaminase antibodies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoantibodies / blood
  • Autoimmunity
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Celiac Disease / diagnosis
  • Celiac Disease / diet therapy
  • Celiac Disease / ethnology*
  • Celiac Disease / genetics
  • Celiac Disease / immunology
  • Central America / epidemiology
  • Cultural Characteristics
  • Diet / adverse effects*
  • Diet / ethnology
  • Diet, Gluten-Free
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Humans
  • Indians, Central American / genetics
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors
  • Triticum / adverse effects*
  • Triticum / immunology
  • Zea mays*


  • Autoantibodies
  • Biomarkers