Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 16, 2017

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Celiac and beyond

Are gluten-free diets here to stay or just another food fad? Does gluten-free dieting have any benefit if you don’t have the disease? Here’s a closer look.

Celiac disease

We know that celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that affects one in every 100 people in the US.1 Common symptoms include bloating, abdominal pain, intermittent diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss and many more discomforts and medical concerns. A lot of people with these symptoms decide to follow a gluten-free diet on their own and, once on the diet, the intestines regain their ability to absorb nutrients causing blood tests, intestinal biopsies and other symptoms to return to normal.2 Thus, if you want to properly diagnose celiac, make sure your patient has been following a diet containing gluten for at least six weeks prior to taking any tests.

Celiac disease is linked to other medical issues because the immune system is likely to attack healthy cells and tissues. These include Type 1 diabetes, autoimmune thyroid disease, autoimmune liver disease, rheumatoid arthritis, Addison’s disease, Sjogren’s syndrome, bone loss/osteoporosis, infertility or recurrent miscarriage, dermatitis herpetiformis, lactose intolerance and unexplained iron-deficiency anemia.

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity

New research in the US shows that approximately 18 million people or six percent of the population fall into this category. It’s now clear that aside from celiac disease and a wheat allergy, individuals can still suffer from similar distress symptoms.1 Be aware of patients suffering from fatigue, “foggy mind,” depression and ADHD as well as gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea. Anemia, osteoporosis, leg numbness and joint pain may also arise. Other symptoms are similar to celiac disease, but less severe.3

Gluten sensitivity doesn’t always lead to the flattening of the villi, the production of transglutaminase (tTGA) antibodies or the autoimmune comorbidities characterized in celiac disease.4 Non-celiac gluten sensitivity can, therefore, be diagnosed by process of elimination.

Gluten-free’s rise in popularity

Many products are naturally gluten-free yet when a company labels a product as such, its sales increase.5 Consumers read this and think “safe” and “better.” While the genetic disease and the sensitivity are more prevalent, there are many celebrities and athletes making gluten-free health claims of weight-loss (even though its higher fat, calorie and sugar contents can lead to weight gain) and better performance. Be aware that these factors add up to some people trying the diet even though they don’t medically need it.4

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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