That is right…a new study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology found that Celiac Disease is 4x more common now than 50 years ago. When you hear statistics like this you must remember that it is hard to say if it is more common, or if more people are being diagnosed. Either way, the prevalence of people eating a gluten-free diet is on the rise. A newspaper article discussing the issue is more common (and interesting terms) than the journal article above. There is a huge wave of people claiming to be “gluten-intolerant,” which should not be mistaken for celiac disease.
Celiac Disease – this is an autoimmune disease to gildan, which is found in gluten. The person’s immune system attacks his/her small intestines when it comes in contact with the protein. These people can have other autoimmune diseases as well. Relief usually isn’t noticed until gluten is completely removed for a month. This can be hard since it is found in a variety of other products, including sunscreen.
Gluten Intolerance – this is when people have trouble breaking down gluten, but do NOT have an autoimmune reaction. These people are not affected by using non-food products that contain gluten. In addition, they usually notice relief within a few days of avoiding gluten. There is no special test to diagnose this – just elimination of the gluten.
Side note – personally, I am not convinced that it is the gluten itself that people with “gluten intolerance” can’t digest. I have not heard of gastroenterologists diagnosing this condition. Instead, it is mainly chiropractor and holistic medicine practitioners (some with legitimate credentials, other without any real authority in diagnosing such conditions). In addition to gluten, whole grain products also have something called oligosaccharides, which are medium chain starches that come people have trouble digesting due to their structure. These feed helpful gut bacteria, which can cause gas, bloating, discomfort. This is especially bothersome for people with slow-transit constipation, because the starches “hang out” in the gut longer than usual, allowing the bacteria to keep feeding (and thus, keep producing gas). Regardless of the cause, if eliminating gluten makes you feel better, by all means, keep doing it!