Gluten, once a term relatively few were aware of, is now fairly well known. Defined as an insoluble protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, it’s rise in the public’s conscious has provided a lot of benefit, helping many people get the diagnosis and help they need, although it is still estimated that 83% of Americans who have celiac disease, an autoimmune reaction to gluten resulting in digestive disruptions, remain undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Stated another way, according to a review in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, approximately 1.4 million out of 1.8 million people in the United States who have celiac disease don’t know it.
Because there is as of yet no cure or help from medicine, the best way to cope and mend from the damage of celiac disease is by following a gluten free diet. Following such a diet can help reduce and reverse damage to the intestine and for some may even help lesson symptoms like diarrhea and weight loss within weeks. Calling the avoidance of gluten “necessary for mucosal recovery”, Dr. Joseph A. Murray, of the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, MN, also reminds us that recovery time and pace varies.
But people suffering from Celiac Disease are not the only ones who feel that following a gluten free diet is helpful. There are many people who are believed to be gluten intolerant or gluten sensitive. Dr. Alessio Fasano, who runs the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland, believes that approximately 18 million Americans have some form of gluten sensitivity.
And while people who are gluten intolerant or sensitive, may have symptoms which can manifest as rashes or bloating, may benefit from avoiding gluten, many other people who do not have Celiac disease and are not gluten intolerant have also decided to follow a gluten free diet believing that it is more healthful. Cynthia Kupper, executive director of the non-profit Gluten Intolerance Group of North America (gluten.net) has asserted that even though only about 1% of customers have celiac disease, about 15% – 25% of customers want food that is free of gluten. And although some believe that these people may be feeling a difference just because they are eating more natural, less processed foods, it’s still estimated that by this year, sales of gluten free food will exceed 5 billion dollars.
Things to keep in mind for those avoiding gluten:
Because Celiac Disease interferes in the intestines ability to absorb, there may be significant deficiencies in essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals. These kind of deficiencies may also be found in anybody eschewing gluten, so care should be taken when doing so.
Manufacturers sometimes replace fat for gluten, so use caution when buying or consuming commercially prepared gluten free foods.
Too little fiber may be another inadvertent effect of avoiding gluten.
Gluten can hide in many ingredients (and also in medications) and may not be easy to identify by reading labels unless you know what you are looking for. ( In the US, new laws now require allergens to be listed on labels.)
People with Celiac Disease may benefit from vitamin and mineral therapy to help offset nutritional deficiencies. This is especially helpful as many gluten free foods are not fortified. Nutrients to especially look out for are the B vitamin family – but be sure that you are purchasing gluten free vitamins