Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity

Dr. Cindy Haines Health Guide
  • If it weren’t for celiac disease, gluten would probably be enjoying a much better reputation. Nowadays, a growing number of people – even those without celiac disease, which requires avoiding this protein found in wheat – are rethinking whether they want to eat gluten.


    Let's take a look at the range of problems that gluten may cause, and whether it’s something the average person should avoid.


    According to the National Institutes of Health, roughly 1 in 100 Americans has celiac disease. Many don’t even know they have it. Celiac disease is an autoimmune problem in which the immune system attacks the small intestine, causing damage. However, gluten triggers the attack.

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    This can lead to unpleasant symptoms, including fatigue, digestive pain and upset, and skin outbreaks. It can affect young people’s growth, and since it can cause the body to become undernourished, people with celiac disease may be underweight. Being aware of the symptoms, then getting diagnosed and treated, can improve people’s quality of life and health.


    In recent years, experts have realized that the numbers of people with celiac disease appear to have risen steeply over time, and it’s not just a matter of doctors finding better ways to diagnose it. In a 2010 review, researchers offer explanations such as:

    • The “hygiene hypothesis” that may also explain a rise in allergies (in short, our surroundings are so clean that our immune systems don’t have enough to do).
    • Changes in the wheat or other grains we commonly eat.

    It’s clear in the medical literature that researchers are sitting up and taking notice – and devoting more resources to understanding this disease.


    But the evolving relationship with gluten doesn’t stop there. A growing number of people believe they have “gluten sensitivity” without celiac disease.


    In a February paper from the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers note that gluten has become “the new diet villain” in the media, and up to one-quarter of consumers reportedly want to see gluten-free foods on shelves. Plus, more people may be aware of the concept of non-celiac gluten sensitivity than celiac disease.


    Between 2004 and 2011, the market for gluten-free foods and drinks grew by 28 percent each year, surpassing low-fat and low-carb diets in 2008, according to a new report in BMC Medicine. Sales may reach $2.6 billion this year.


    The public’s growing concern with gluten may be a boon for people with celiac disease, as we’ve seen a rise in foods labeled gluten-free in recent years, adding a new variety of food options. However, it’s wise to keep a few points in mind when you’re deciding whether to go gluten-free:

    • If you truly think that gluten is causing symptoms, talk to your doctor about being tested for celiac disease.
    • Just because a food is labeled “gluten-free” doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a nutritious option. Consider its calories and fat like you would any other food before you decide whether to include it in your diet.
    • Get enough grain foods. Gluten is found in wheat, barley, and rye, which are in turn found in many common foods. If you cut all these out, make sure to replace them with gluten-free grains (including quinoa and rice).


  • For even more tips on how to get better health and need the health care system less, check out: The New Prescription: How to Get the Best Health Care in a Broken System by Dr. Cynthia D. Haines, M.D. (Dr. Cindy Haines) and Eric Metcalf, M.P.H. This is a book about getting what you really want: better health on your own terms. 

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Published On: June 06, 2012