As the words celiac and gluten free are becoming a part of our daily jargon, it seemed important to clear up some misconceptions about this disease and food intolerance. While it seems this topic is just another diet fad, the truth is anything but a trend.
More than three million Americans live with celiac disease. Those with celiac experience something very different than those with sensitivity to gluten. Celiac is an auto-immune condition that causes damage to the small intestine and causes poor absorption of nutrients. The issues occur as the body’s reaction to gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley). USANA Health Sciences’ naturopathic physician Dr. Nancy Steely explains that those with celiac disease (CD) experience a wide range of symptoms that commonly include muscle cramping, diarrhea or constipation, fatigue, skin rashes, and joint pain.
Dr. Steely clarifies why CD symptoms vary by person. As with all auto-immune disorders, the body attacks its own cells and therefore symptoms appear differently for each person. Due to this, many go misdiagnosed. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness reports that people typically go 6-10 years before they receive a correct diagnosis of their symptoms.
While CD has gray areas, it’s becoming more and more refined as more research is done. As for those who do not have the intestinal damage, but still suffer from symptoms from ingesting gluten, they fall into the bigger gray area of gluten sensitive. Nearly 40 million Americans have a sensitivity to gluten. “Many people find it difficult to digest gluten, and they simply feel better by eating a gluten-free diet,” explains Dr. Steely.
With the facts at hand and the staggering numbers, it seems more clear why gluten is the diet hot button. However, those who have been researching and working with those who truly have negative issues with gluten are not loving all the spotlights on gluten. Wendy Gregory Kaho is a “Gluten-Free Blogger” at CeliacsInTheHouse.com, as well as a frequent guest author for DietsInReview. She shared some of her concerns with the gluten-free trend.
“For those of us active in the gluten-free and celiac awareness community, the trendiness of the gluten-free diet is a blessing and a curse. As more products are offered and more awareness is raised we are happy. As the diet is portrayed as a weight loss program and people go to restaurants and make a big fuss about getting a gluten-free meal and then order a dessert with gluten, it confuses restaurant staff and makes those of us who need the diet to stay healthy seem like picky or trendy eaters, too.”
Furthermore, Kaho shared how the increase in diagnoses has fueled the research to catch up with the demand of those suffering.
“The numbers of people needing a gluten-free diet are growing and researchers are finally trying to find the genetic links and understand how diet, food production, and environment affect this group,” she said. “We really are on the cutting edge of understanding the gluten and autoimmune connection and the medical community is waking up to the seriousness and the numbers of patients involved when five years ago many of us were just dismissed and undiagnosed.”
As May’s celiac awareness month ends, hopefully the mission of informing more of our society completed. The words celiac and gluten should no longer be foreign and hopefully a true definition has been understood. Gluten free is clearly not a weight loss diet trend, it is a cure for disease and discomfort.