Going Gluten Free
Walk the aisles of any supermarket and you’ll find shelves brimming with items purported to be gluten-free. and it’s not just at the grocery store: many Bay area restaurant menus now
offer a variety of gluten-free choices. in fact, according to
one estimate, gluten-free sales reached more than $2.6 billion in 2010, and that number is expected to double by 2015.
Proponents of the gluten-free diet claim it can help remedy
a host of medical conditions ranging from attention deficit
disorder to eczema, chronic headaches, infertility and anxiety. While this trend has been ramping up for years, Western
doctors have been thumbing their noses at the prospect that
gluten consumption is problematic for anyone other than the
1 percent of the population with a wheat allergy or celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that wreaks havoc on the body
when wheat, rye or barley are ingested.
still, evidence to the contrary is quickly mounting. in
fact, a landmark study by researchers at the University of
Maryland, has caused many physicians to reverse course.
the study shows gluten can set off a distinct reaction in
the intestines and the immune system, even in people
who don’t have celiac disease. “For the first time, we have
scientific evidence that indeed, gluten sensitivity not only
exists, but is very different from celiac disease,” says lead
author alessio Fasano, medical director at the University of
Maryland’s Center for Celiac Research.
studies like this have prompted many local physicians to
rethink the issue. Dr. Jeffrey aron, director of the Center for
inflammatory Bowel Disorders at California Pacific Medical
Center, says he recently gave a lecture urging doctors to
consider gluten sensitivities as a potential diagnosis. “about
1 in 100 people have celiac disease,” aron notes. “however,
we now think that about 1 in 5 have a gluten sensitivity, and
that’s striking.” he also points out that many people are
probably unaware that they have celiac because, despite its
categorization as a gastrointestinal disease, most people
who have it don’t present with abdominal complaints.
“intestinal problems are just the tip of the iceberg,” says
aron. “learning disabilities, brain fog, fatigue and depres-
sion can also be symptoms of celiac.”
likewise, folks with non-celiac gluten sensitivity can
also suffer from symptoms unrelated to the gut. and how
much gluten — if any — this group can tolerate without ill
effects remains unclear. “i think we are still 10 years away
from ans wering that question,” says aron. in the meantime,
“i tell my patients if being off gluten makes them feel better,
then go with it.” D.M.D.
of the gluten-
free diet claim
it can help
remedy a host