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Too Many Going Gluten-Free?

More and more people are being diagnosed – or diagnosing themselves – with gluten intolerance. But a new study out of Italy suggests that more research needs to be done before non-celiacs cut this protein from their diet.  



A report published last month in the Annals of Internal Medicine questions the widely accepted statistic that 17 million Americans may be gluten intolerant, saying that the condition must be defined more concretely before people are told to eliminate gluten. 

Unlike Celiac Disease – a known condition in which damage to the stomach lining by gluten prevents patients  from absorbing food’s nutrients – gluten intolerance does not have one common medical explanation. When eating less gluten alleviates a person’s gastrointestinal problems, he or she is diagnosed with gluten intolerance.  A sensitivity to gluten, notes the commentary, is likely the sign of another underlying disorder – such as Celiac Disease or Irritable Bowel Syndrome – rather than a disease in and of itself.  

Eliminating gluten could even be detrimental to pinpointing the root cause of a patient’s digestive issues, say the authors, as it could mask the symptoms of Celiac disease, leading to a misdiagnosis. 

“We must prevent a possible health problem from becoming a social health problem,” says the report. “Self-prescription of gluten withdrawal by a growing number of patients inevitable leads to a series of problems: subsequent inability to diagnose or exclude celiac disease, deleterious health effects from the probably suboptimal adherence to a gluten-free diet in the case of patients with undiscovered celiac disease, and the high economic burden related to an unjustified gluten-free diet,” the authors note, according to Food Navigator USA

Past research has suggested that gluten intolerance falls on a spectrum, ranging from Celiac Disease at its worst to the ability to eat all breads, pastas and cereals with no concerns. According to this theory, promoted last year by a University of Maryland study, gluten sensitivity is a specific condition that falls in the middle of this spectrum and is marked by its own set of immune responses to gluten.

Sales of gluten-free products have been rising rapidly, increasing by 16 percent in 2010 alone.  That year, the market for these foods was estimated to be worth $2.64 billion. This trend is expected to continue, reaching approximately $5.5 billion by 2015. 

© Food Safety News
  • A. Aydin

    Gluten protein from cereal grains is the first plant protein source that mankind cultivated and consumed. How is it possible suddenly to develop an allergy/immune response to such an ubiquitous food source by millions of people? My contention, it is either a misdiagnosed problem or some contaminants/industrial pollutants or chemicals associated with cereal grain production are to blame. Note that gluten allergy seems to be limited to people living in developed/industrialized countries. I don’t recall seeing any reports of this in places like India, Pakistan, North Africa and the middle east. The food companies are quick to take advantage of any idea that help in creating and selling new products with higher profit margins.

  • Rebecca Hart

    I’m one of those people with gluten intolerance. I have been diagnosed with collogenous colitis and found free of celiac disease. My symptoms would be much worse with gluten in my diet. My gastroenterologist isn’t the one who told me taking gluten from my diet may help the symptoms. My own research told me. Since then, I am seeing the same symptoms in my brother, and possibly in my children. I think there are a whole lot of people out there with food intolerances that are not being told this may be the cause of their symptoms. It took me over 30 years to be diagnosed and I went through years of symptoms with no relief in sight. I still haven’t found any medication that helps as much as staying gluten free. And the reason you don’t see people in developing countries with this disease is because gluten in not part of their native diet or they die early from diarrhea, the leading cause of death in children around the world.

  • Kyle V

    I think A. Aydin made some great points. While it can be a serious problem I think society and food companies are exacerbating the problem. Its become so widespread that many people and businesses are not taking it seriously so it becomes more and more difficult for people like Rebecca to get the help and service that they need.

  • Ben

    Can’t blame marketers for accommodating hypochondriacs. A fool and her money are easily parted! What’s the difference if it’s Dr. Oz or General Mills who indulges her notions?

  • Heather

    That study sounds rather off track — why should they be offended that someone suffering finds relief through eliminating wheat (gluten), no matter what the reason? I find it humorous that they are concerned that doing so may cause a mis-diagnosis, when things for these folks have already been mis-diagnosed for years! Medical arrogance. The real question should be why are so many people feeling the pain from gluten these days? What has changed with wheat in the last generation? Could genetically modified seeds have anything to do with it? Did “they” test every last peptide sequence in the modified wheat to see if the human body could handle them?

  • @Heather, I don’t think it is about them being offended but rather that the medical model is limited to the circle. Being at the moment in Celiac Disease research, we are limited to the tools at hand for diagnosis so that if you are already on a gluten-free diet, they cannot determine the roots of the cause of your intolerance.
    What the studies in Italy and Maryland have indicated is a lot of the related symptoms to Celiac are increasing and that the doctors need to have an updated guide to follow if they are to treat their patients who often go on for years living with these gastro intestinal problems.

  • Ralph

    There is no genetically modified wheat grown commercially in the US. See how easy it is for anyone to insanely worry themselves into a silly self-diagnosis? And the next thing you know, Monsanto is killing people with modern technology. Sheesh!

  • Please look at your “research” or sources again. People that have Celiac Disease react to Gluten – the protein found in wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt etc. The protein in these grains damages the “small intestine” where nutrients should be absorbed but are not because it is an autoimmune disease – the reaction to the Gluten – damages the villi in the small intestine. That is why there are over 300 symptoms because if you do not absorb your nutrients then all of the systems in your body will start to malfunction due to malnourishment. It does not damage the stomach it damages the small intestine.



  • shaunamom

    Rather than dismiss people as over-reacting or as hypochondriacs, maybe doctors and others should stop a moment and think about why so many people are feeling bad and looking for how to feel better. And why they aren’t going to their doctors to help them.
    Something is WRONG with the population when this many people feel this crummy. So crummy that they are willing to give up what is a pretty major component of most of their diets. That’s not being a hypochondriac, that’s feeling so terrible that you get desperate. And if you’re lucky, you also get to find the answer and feel better.
    Because if your doctor isn’t helping you, what are you supposed to do? Shrug and say ‘oh well, guess I’ll suffer for the rest of my life while doctors figure this out, and I’ll be happy that my kids will probably have it better.’ Of course not!
    Which is why I so disagree with the report advising people not to do anything to help themselves. It perpetuates the attitude that the patient is a non-essential part of any diagnosis. Our experiences, our pain, our observations, and our discoveries are far too frequently ignored as irrelevant, and those who make any decisions about their own health are labeled as hypochondriacs, anxious, or delusional. The tests and the doctors opinions are all that matter – the same doctors who did not help us, who disbelieved our symptoms, and who never once looked at food as a possible issue.
    And now they’re upset because people say they feel better. Seriously? Because a responsible adult felt bad, got off their proverbial behinds, and did something about it? We do this all the time for colds, for warts, for sprains – why not for stomach pain or other aches, too? Because doctors, too many of you have not been helping us with this.
    The average time to be diagnosed with this is 10 years in the USA, last statistic I heard. It took over 20 for me, and I was diagnosed because I requested the test for Celiac Disease, not because a doctor thought to check for a food related problem. My daughter was well on her way to the same problems except, again, I had her tested.
    If an institution created to help the community is failing in its job, only an idiot keeps relying on it as heavily as it used to.



  • laurie

    Read a recent article on Huffington Post on gliadan protein & gluten. 1. Wheat has been modified to increase protein & man who discovered this won a Nobel prize. (outcome was a food staple to feed the masses and smaller wheat species that produced smaller but more abundant grain). 2. I have personal history of ten years chronic pain that doctors diagnosed and treated incorrectly and unsuccessfully. This includes prescribing high dose vitamin d that gave me a stroke and fosamax that caused intestinal bleeding…and lodiene xl that caused me to go into anaphalatic shock and had hives from it even in my ears! After the stroke, i could not continue college where i was an honor student. 10 years later, long since off my vegetarian diet, and down to 50% of pain, i was stll sick and ended up in at a hospital without a pcp. An FNP in that ER suggested i be tested for celiac disease after spending a half hour listening to my medical history. He claimed i had all the symptoms and told me i needed to get an intestinal biopsy. I had long since had it with surgeries/tests/scans/lab work and opted to just try eliminating gluten grains. My intent was to prove them wrong as had not prescribed antibiotics that i felt i needed. Two weeks later, i felt well, like my brain came out of a platic bag. My acne was clearing up. I woke up on time and felt rested…i had what i never had known- normal digestive process…no bone pain for three months straight..was a fifteen year record, began to get my sense of touch to heat and cold back in 8 months (and 3years later tactile sense returned) … I have gained weight up from 100 lbs. No more mood swings nor depression. No more dry eyes. No convestion. My asthma went away…. I am holding a job.
    To get tested by a doctor at this point, i would a. Have to return to eating food that makes me sick. B. Pay a doctor for this–i have not needed to see a doctor in 4 years because i now never get sick.
    The reaction i get from people when they learn about my diet has been–in many cases incredibly rude or insensitive. Watching someone eat what nearly killed me and ruined a good part of my life truly doesnt bother me.

  • jb

    If more people are at least educated to the symptoms, they may find that they do not have gluten intolerance.

    • Shlynn

      Yet not eating gluten makes them better, and eating gluten practically kill them… Sounds a lot like elementary mathematics. So are you, or anyone who thinks this way gluten sensitive???? Is it just a coincidence that GMOs are on the rise as are food sensitivities?? I think it’s funny, I was a completely active healthy woman until about two years ago when my health started spiraling out of control, on every level, at 26. Two years of specialists and no for sure diagnosis, yet two weeks of no gluten and I am magically 200x better, almost brand new again on every level.

  • i think they must have done something to the wheat in the past 5 years. it is the only explanation that makes any sense to me because the abundance of gluten intolerance  awareness and suffering.  personally i cannot stand it. it took me years to find out that avoiding gluten alleviates my digestive woes. i cannot eat anything i want anymore. gluten free is not a hip fad for yuppies, it is a sick condition which cripples your quality of life.  imo monsanto most likely helped perpetuate the condition thru rampant unvalidated genetic engineering.  i have read some things about glyphosate as well but i cannot remember all the connections bcuz i am glutened currently. lol

  • DidRight

    Ralph, there is actually a study that links Monsanto to the rise in gluten intolerance, celiac disease, and irritable bowel syndrome.
    After years of doctors treating my symptoms instead of finding the root of my problems, I finally figured out MYSELF that gluten has been the problem all along (premature bone loss, decalcification of my teeth, depression, migraines, gall bladder disease, horrible digestive problems). I am so happy to finally figure out the cause of my health issues and I feel so much better now that I am fearful of eating gluten.

  • Jerez Sherry

    In my research I’ve read that desiccants used to keep grains dry, could be the culprit. I’ve read that there’s more gluten in foods by. 60% since 1950, that, we humans really haven’t had enough time to become able to digest grains, and grains cause inflammation which has been discovered in people’s
    Skeletons since man started eating grains.
    Also that any sleep apnea problem doesn’t allow the body to heal itself, so is highly sensitive.
    There’s more to this, than meets the eye!!!
    When I eat grains, my pulse shoots up. Happens every time.

  • HealthNut

    years ago I thought I had a sensitivty to wheat products ( gluten wasn’t the issue back in the nineties) so I eliminated wheat from my diet but ate other grains and seemed to feel better. Now we’re told it’s gluten sensitivity and it’s found in many other grains as well. I had a intestinal biopsy done and found out I wasn’t wheat or gluten sensitive but had a slow or shy bowel. Alleviated the problem with metamucil and can eat any grains I want now. Is there as many men who are gluten intolerant or are the majority women. Women get it in their heads that breads (wheat, etc.) make them gain weight and a lot of women need to control their food intake in some way and having a gluten intolerance or wheat sensitivity is very handy and of course the ‘in’ thing to do. Sorry everyone. I know some of you actually do have a problem with wheat/gluten but I’ve been round this block before when it was the ‘in’ thing in the nineties and discovered, the proper medical way, that I wasn’t wheat/gluten intolerant and fixed my problem. I’ve changed my lifestyle over the years and don’t have to take metamucil now because I eat the proper foods to keep my system working right.

  • Darlene

    I am a MEDICALLY DIAGNOSED “CELIAC” at the age of 48 following YEARS of being told
    I was “ANOREXIC” due to LOW BODY WEIGHT (despite huge appetite), LEARNING PROBLEMS (brain fog), and MANY MANY OTHER SYMPTOMS from AS EARLY AS I CAN REMEMBER.
    “THREW SANDWICHES AWAY IN GRADE 4”, as I couldn’t THINK to learn at SCHOOL.
    My question/theory is this – WHO DECIDED THAT WHEAT was supposed to be A FOOD??
    It doesn’t look “Edible”, requiring substantial processing to consume (unlike most other crops) let alone BEING RAISED TO BELIEVE we need to eat MOSTLY WHEAT (Over fruits/Veg)??
    I THINK WE ARE “DELUSIONAL” is these ASSUMPTIONS that have been brought forward from A “HISTORICAL TIME”, before any REAL UNDERSTANDING of ANY THING “HEALTH” related (think CAVEMAN).
    I do believe we HAVE ADVANCED “far beyond this in EVOLUTARY TERMS”???