Celiac Disease and the Rise of Gluten-free Diets

Celiac Disease and the Rise of Gluten-free Diets

Gluten Free Groceries – BT2485
The gluten-free diet has been gaining increased popularity for its purported health benefits, though the truth behind its emergence can be attributed to the rise of celiac disease among the general population.  Celiac disease occurs in individuals with a genetic predisposition, and is an autoimmune disorder which attacks the lining of the small intestine when in the presence of the gluten protein.  Gluten is found in wheat, barley, rye, and other grains, and is commonly used as an additive in various foods and drinks.

Celiac Disease and the Rise of Gluten-free Diets
Normal & Abnormal Jejunum (Celiac Disease) – BW5565

A celiac patient’s intestinal lining can degrade overtime, limiting their ability to absorb nutrients and leading to other health problems such as osteoporosis, fatigue, anemia, or infertility.  This differs from an individual suffering from gluten sensitivity, a condition in which the digestive system has difficulty metabolizing gluten, resulting in short-term gastrointestinal symptoms and discomfort.  As a result, celiac patients must restrict their diet to meats, fruits, vegetables, and other gluten-free grains and starch such as rice, corn, and potatoes, while avoiding most processed foods containing gluten.

The sudden popularity of gluten-free diets seems to correspond with an increase in celiac disease diagnoses in the United States.  Though celiac disease only affects an estimated 1% of the population, those numbers are four times higher than they were in the 1950’s. 

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