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If It Isn't Celiac Disease, Then What Is It?

We've touched on the subject of gluten sensitivity.

Once merely suspected as being a medical condition similar to Celiac, the theory has recently received significant substantiation. Dr. Alessio Fasano's study1, published in March 2011, found that there are indeed many people whose bodies react negatively to gluten. They have the same symptoms as someone diagnosed with Celiac. However, they don't have the damage to the intestines present in people with Celiac Disease.

The study went further to find that if these people adopted a strict gluten-free diet, similar to Celiac patients, they experienced quick and significant relief of their symptoms. This finally validated the condition known as gluten sensitivity. (Currently there is no accurate "test" for gluten sensitivity. Once a wheat allergy and Celiac Disease are ruled out, people suspecting that gluten is negatively affecting them are encouraged to try a gluten free diet to determine if gluten is the culprit.)

Other experts point to another recent double-blind, placebo-controlled study that showed that only 38 percent of patients with non-Celiac gluten sensitivity actually react to gluten. The theory is that these people could be reacting to another compound in wheat or to byproducts of modern wheat cultivation and processing. Therefore, these experts prefer to use the term "non-Celiac wheat sensitivity."

Then there's another group...those following a gluten-free diet BY CHOICE.

There is a growing group of people who have chosen to adopt a gluten-free diet...not because they have Celiac Disease, not because they're gluten sensitive, but purely because they feel better or think they will be healthier by eating gluten-free. This is a somewhat controversial subject. While there's no evidence documenting health benefits of a gluten-free diet for the general population, there is certainly much anecdotal evidence that supports this. Some people swear they have more energy, feel less bloated, sleep better, and think more clearly if they eat gluten-free.

This is both a blessing and a curse for people with Celiac and gluten sensitivity. It's a blessing because it is this group (which includes many celebrities) that has helped to boost awareness of Celiac and the gluten-free diet. Awareness is essential, because it helps some undiagnosed Celiacs to get properly diagnosed. Awareness has also resulted in benefits for those of us already following gluten-free diets. It has caused more restaurants and stores to offer gluten-free foods.  

The downside is that many people now view gluten-free diets as a "trend" or "fad" and don't take it seriously. They aren't aware that following a gluten-free diet isn't always a choice, but a MEDICAL NECESSITY for many people.  This is particularly important when it comes to dining out. If your gluten-free diet is medically necessary, you need to be vigilant about cross contamination. Restaurants need to understand and be trained in safe food preparation and not merely offer foods that are gluten free because it brings in more customers. If someone who follows a gluten-free diet for their own reasons accidentally gets "glutened," it is not a big deal. If someone with Celiac orders something that was not prepared properly and came into contact with gluten, they can become sick for days.

To learn about what you can eat, can't eat, and hidden sources of gluten, read our section on Adopting A Gluten Free Diet.