SparkPeople Blogs  •  health  •  diet

Is Gluten Intolerance on the Rise? What You Should Know

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Gluten is a protein found in products made from wheat, rye and some forms of oats. In some people, gluten can trigger an immune response, which damages the fingerlike projections of the small intestine known as villi causing them to become flattened which limits their ability to absorb nutrients properly.

People that suffer from gluten-sensitivity may become diagnosed with an autoimmune condition known as gluten-sensitive enteropathy, non-tropical sprue, or celiac sprue, which are three different names for the same condition. Since the exact cause of celiac disease is unknown, prevention is difficult. For those that can recognize risk factors or identify multiple suggestive symptoms, early diagnosis and treatment can limit long-term complications and ensure a long and healthy life. Celiac disease diagnosis is typically based on results of a series of blood tests and perhaps small intestine tissue evaluation to look at specific antigens and antibodies.

A New York Times article last week reported that celiac disease is frequently overlooked and under diagnosed.

Here are some facts from the article that I found interesting.

  • One out of every 133 people in America has diagnosed celiac disease compared to 10 years ago when it was only about one out of every 10,000 people across the United States.

  • There are approximately three million Americans with celiac disease.

  • It takes about ten years for a person with symptoms to receive a diagnosis of celiac disease.

  • In 2003 there were approximately 135 gluten-free products on the market compared to today where there are over 830.

Back in the 1990's when I was working as a Registered Dietitian in a teaching hospital, it was very rare that I would have a client in need of gluten-restricted diet education or restriction. When someone did have that need, we used a resource list for specialty products that could be mail ordered and eating away from home was strongly discouraged. Today, you can walk into many large supermarkets and find a complete gluten-free section and there are resources such as the Gluten-Free Restaurant Awareness Program to help people find gluten-free dining opportunities. However, the increased awareness and availability of gluten-free foods for those that need them also opens a door for food marketers and fad diet promoters as well.

While symptoms of celiac disease vary significantly from person to person, here are some of the more typical gastrointestinal symptoms that are experienced.

  • Abdominal pain, distention, bloating, gas, indigestion

  • Constipation or diarrhea but typically there is consistency once a symptom is exhibited

  • Appetite changes and weight issues

  • Lactose tolerance issues which many times go away once gluten treatment begins

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • "Fatty" stools that float and are foul smelling and blood tinged
The intestinal symptoms many times accompany several non-intestinal symptoms as well.

  • Low blood counts and anemia

  • Bone and joint pain as well as bone diseases such as osteoporosis, kyphoscoliosis or fractures.

  • Ease in bruising

  • Depression

  • Fatigue

  • Hypoglycemia

  • Skin disorders such as dermatitis herpetiformis

  • Defects and discoloration in dental enamel
Sometimes celiac disease also accompanies other diseases and conditions such as:

  • Autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis or systemic lupus erythematosus

  • Frequent miscarriage or unexplained infertility

  • Neurological conditions

  • Thyroid disease

  • Type 1 diabetes
A family with someone diagnosed with celiac disease is at an increased risk of having others that will suffer with it as well. Celiac disease is most commonly found in Caucasian individuals and those from European descent as well as in woman more often than men. Typically, once someone has been diagnosed through medical examination and diagnostic testing, a gluten-free diet is recommended which includes the elimination of foods, beverages, and medications that contain wheat, barley, rye and sometimes oats. Education from a Registered Dietitian who specializes in celiac disease and the gluten-free diet is recommended and beneficial as well since diet modification needs are not always obvious. Many times the goal of diet therapy focuses on three goals: 1) to halt all disease symptoms, 2) to heal existing villi damage, and 3) to prevent any further or lasting damage to the small intestine.

There are many foods that create the staples of a gluten-free diet that allow it to be a fairly healthy and well balanced way to eat.

  • Cereals made without wheat or barley malt

  • Fruits and vegetables.

  • Lean meats

  • Low fat diary

  • Potatoes, rice, corn and beans

  • Specialty foods like pastas and breads made with alternative grains such as rice, potato, corn flours and starches
The Bottom Line

According to the National Institutes of Health, 95% of people suffering from celiac disease have not officially been diagnosed. At the same time, others are following a gluten-free diet unnecessarily because the marketing and diet industry has promoted it as the next great thing. Chronic symptoms like many that are listed above are potentially a sign of a food intolerance. Four different food intolerances (different from food allergies) are typically experienced.

  • Dairy (lactose) Intolerance

  • Fructose intolerance

  • Yeast sensitivity

  • Gluten and wheat intolerance

If you or someone in your family has several of the symptoms or conditions listed above and you are not getting a clear direction on what might help turn things around, perhaps a trial elimination diet would be helpful to see if gluten-intolerance could be a contributing factor. The Celiac Sprue Association has outlined a wonderful three step process for gluten-free diet self-management that can help as well. There is also a basic list of what to include in your basic gluten-free diet for several weeks to help you see if gluten intolerance is a possibility. At the end of your three to four week elimination trial, you can go back to eating normally as you were before for several weeks. This will help you tell if there is a need to follow up with your medical provider for additional testing or if making the dietary changes made no difference. However, if you have minimal symptoms or medical conditions associated with gluten-intolerance and are using gluten-free products as a way to lose weight or believe it to be a healthier way to eat, you might be wasting your money.

Did you know about celiac disease as the reason for the gluten-free products or did you think they were simply a new diet fad. Is this an area you think might be beneficial to check into further for you or someone in your family?

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints


I think it's a fad diet if you don't display the symptoms of celiac disease, yet you cut gluten-containing foods from your diet "just because." Everything is about moderation, and unless you have a diagnosed condition, you're choosing to limit your intake of otherwise healthy foods based on the pathological reaction of people with celiac disease. Report
It is a necessity. Have a nephew/Godchild who was diagnosised as a very young child and seeing him go through the disease of celiac was heartbreaking when all the other grandchildren we having great treats from Grandma to eat and he was having to have the gluten free stuff Mom brought. He was a trooper though and at times even still in his adult life he has to be careful however he has grown up to be a fine person and outgrew a lot of it. So yes believe it is a neccessity Report
I knew it wasn't a fad -- but then again, I work in a physician's office -- and we're a diabetes center so with the background our providers have, and what I have learned working with them for over 7 years, it isnt' a suprise to me that it would seem like a fad when it is for a real disease. Report
I never thought of it as a fad. Report
For those with the disease it is no Fad for sure. I have a friend that has been diagnoised with the disease and since going gluten free is now feeling so much healthier, she also looks healthier. For myself however I would not go gluten free mainly because I have very few of the symptoms related to it-- maybe cut down but that is as far as I would go. Report
Great info Report
Thanks for this information Report
Great info - thanks. Report
Great article, but then again, I happen to agree with what you wrote, and wrote well! Thanks for exposing and addressing this very serious concern that really has to do with over processing of our foods. I eat very little processed grain, and I agree with the comment about the expensive bread, but it is worth every penny. We pay now, or we pay later. I am eating vegan, so I find it very easy to avoid wheat, and gluten products. There are so many healthy rice alternatives, we can all do with expanding our food choices, instead of grabbing the easy first thing we have always reached for. It just takes a little more work at first. Report
I have 2 sisters w/ celiac. One is worse off than the other although they are twins. They can't even have corn that was grown in a field where wheat has been grown. I feel terrible for both of them as it makes them literally fall to the floor in pain if they accidentally eat something they shouldn't. I'm glad you published this so people can understand. Report
A couple of years ago, I worked for a company that made gluten free foods and shipped mail order all over north america. Shortly after I left that job, my sister was diagnosed with MS and through her research , decided to follow a gluten-free diet. Since then, she has felt so much better and now her daughter is going to try gluten free to see if it will help her with some of her medical issues. I can eat wheat without any problems, but can't have sodium. It makes for interesting dinners when we get together!

The FAD part of this whole thing is simply in the marketing. For the people who require limiting or restricting gluten, it is a very real and life enhancing necessity. Report
My friend eats gluten free and vegetarian to keep her multiple sclerosis symptoms at bay. Her doctor says as long as it is working she should continue to eat that way. Report
I go along with you that it is more of a FAD and marketing than anything. Any person with the real illness has brains enough to figure out: I eat this; I get sick after I do; NOT good for me. If something made me sick, I certainly would quit eating it. Since I've been following Sparks, I quit eating most grain products just because I'm carb sensitive with Insulin Resistance, so it hasn't been that difficult to find other foods like fruits, veggies and meats. Report
Great article. I've had students with Celiac and this is a nice informative article. Report
Back in the mid-'70s I had a co-worker that had a gluten intolerance. He had to do a lot of educating so that we understood what he could and could not eat. It was really a challenge when we all wanted to go out for lunch or when birthdays came around. Report
great blog i printed it to give it to a friend thanks Report
I worked with a woman for 30 years, who struggled every day with this disease. My niece was finally diagnosed this year, after fighting it for 15 years, since she was 11, and being told it was all in her head, that it was an ulcer, and that it would go away. She has changed her diet and is finally happy and symptom free. Report
I was thrilled to see this article. I have CD and it took over 40 years to find out what my problems is. Great article. Many people just don't understand and think it is a fad. I wish it was than I wouldn't have to spend $6.00 for a loaf of bread, $3.89 for pasta that a normal person can buy for .99. GF eating is expensive. Report
People seeking a formal diagnosis might consider the fact that doing a gluten restricted diet prior to testing may skew the results toward a false negative result...just something to consider. I and my sister both have a positive diagnosis for Celiac Sprue. Eating gluten free is more expensive and definitely makes "eating out" far more difficult, but it has literally saved our lives. It is a medical necessity, not a fad. Thanks for the article. Report
I was diagnosed with celiacs about a year ago, and i'm glad to see more awareness of the disease in the media. Report
Very interesting blog which I'm sure will help many members.
I've never been official diagnosed but I don't need to be...I know that I have certain food sensitivities and so I do the sensible thing and AVOID eating them!! Report
I started doing wheat free (not as restrictive as gluten free) a few months ago. I felt amazing, no bloated destended belly after eating. Then I fell off and have been eating wheat since Thanksgiving, I feel pretty crappy when I eat it. Report
Thanks for sharing this - my hubby was diagnosed 4 years ago and now I make all his bread and buns. I am always looking for good recipes for sweets. Report
WOW, what a GREAT article!!! I have a dear friend who suffers from many of the symptoms and has been tested for almost everything else but this. THANKS for sharing! Report
Many of my friends are on a gluten-free diet. They claim they no longer have that "bloted" feeling. Report
My dad was diagnosed with celiac disease about 5 years ago. He's 66 years old now. He suffered for a very long time before his doctor figured out what it was. In the beginning switching to a gluten-free diet was tough as there weren't as many options as there are now. Some people are so sensitive that they can't cross contaminate any flour products in the same kitchen. We know a couple people like that as well. So their kitchen has 2 toasters, 2 food processors, etc. Can get very expensive. Also, gluten-free food is also very expensive. For example a loaf of gluten-free bread from a store in our city costs $8.00 per loaf. For most people with celiac disease, the best rule of thumb is keep it simple. Meat that isn't breaded, potatoes, rice or gluten-free pasta, veggies. Can't go wrong with simple. I also found a place here that makes gluten-free crusts for pies and all sorts of other gluten-free desserts. Nice to know that I can get these things when I need to. For Thanksgiving I was able to find gluten-free pumpkin pie. I know that in Canada anyway, you can get a lot of gluten-free stuff at Safeway. Like anything else, it's a learning process, but once you get it figured out, it's not as bad as one might think. Report
This was a good article and gave me some nice resources to use for a friend that was diagnosised with Celiac a few months ago. Dinner parties have been difficult. I want to cook something safe for her and have it be something everyone can enjoy. Thanks for the info Sparkpeople Report
It amazes me to read how many MORE people are being diagnosed with this problem. I HOPE that is simply because awareness has been raised, and more Drs. look at these symptoms and seek the correct diagnosis.
People are NOT aware of how this problem can shorten ones life, cause all sorts of problems. GLAD to see more information on this subject, and do hope to see more ! Report
I'm currently going through a trial elimination of gluten. (I just started over the weekend.) I have been experiencing several of the symptoms mentioned above for several years. When I went vegan, the symptoms eased up a bit, but there's still some discomfort, usually when I eat glutinous foods. Report
Close email sign up
Our best articles, delivered Join the millions of people already subscribed Get a weekly summary of our diet and fitness advice We will never sell, rent or redistribute your email address.

Magic Link Sent!

A magic link was sent to Click on that link to login. The link is only good for 24 hours.