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Gluten-free diet fad: Are celiac disease rates actually rising?

In the most serious cases, gluten triggers celiac disease, which can cause symptoms including abdominal pain, bloating and intermittent diarrhea. The lack of nutrients can cause sufferers to experience weight loss, fatigue, rashes and other problems. Celiac disease is different from an allergy to wheat, which affects a much smaller number of people, mostly children who outgrow it.

It was once considered extremely rare in the U. But about 20 years ago, a few scientists began exploring why celiac disease was less common here than in Europe and other countries. They concluded that it wasn't less common here; it was just under-diagnosed. Scientists suggest that there may be more celiac disease today because people eat more processed wheat products like pastas and baked goods than in decades past, and those items use types of wheat that have a higher gluten content.

Gluten helps dough rise and gives baked goods structure and texture. In the s, scientists began cross-breeding wheat to make hardier, shorter and better-growing plants. It was the basis of the Green Revolution that boosted wheat harvests worldwide. Norman Borlaug, the U. But the gluten in wheat may have somehow become even more troublesome for many people, Murray said. That also may have contributed to what is now called "gluten sensitivity.

Doctors recently developed an ambiguous definition for gluten sensitivity. It's a label for people who suffer bloating and other celiac symptoms and seem to be helped by avoiding gluten, but don't actually have celiac disease. Celiac disease is diagnosed with blood testing, genetic testing, or biopsies of the small intestine.

The case for gluten sensitivity was bolstered last year by a very small but often-cited Australian study. Volunteers who had symptoms were put on a gluten-free diet or a regular diet for six weeks, and they weren't told which one.

Those who didn't eat gluten had fewer problems with bloating, tiredness and irregular bowel movements. Clearly, "there are patients who are gluten-sensitive," said Dr. What is hotly debated is how many people have the problem, she added. It's impossible to know "because the definition is nebulous," she said. One of the most widely cited estimates comes from Dr.

Alessio Fasano, a University of Maryland researcher who led studies that changed the understanding of how common celiac disease is in the U. Fasano believes 6 percent of U. But that's based on a review of patients at his clinic - hardly a representative sample of the general public. Other estimates vary widely, he said. But the best estimates are that more than half the consumers buying these products - perhaps way more than half - don't have any clear-cut reaction to gluten.

They buy gluten-free because they think it will help them lose weight, because they seem to feel better or because they mistakenly believe they are sensitive to gluten. But, gluten-free diets may not lead to weight loss. In fact, for celiac patients weight gain for those on the gluten-free diets is the goal because it suggests they're absorbing the necessary foods and nutrients they had been lacking. Whatever the reason, marketing of foods without gluten has exploded. Those with celiac disease, of course, are grateful.

Until only a few years ago, it was difficult to find grocery and dining options. While conventional bakers use wheat flour, she uses such ingredients as millet flour, sorghum flour, brown rice flour and tapioca starch. At one of Atlanta's largest and busiest health food stores, Return to Eden, manager Troy DeGroff said over a third of his customers come in for gluten-free products for themselves or their family.

It's hard to say how many of his customers have a medical reason for skipping gluten. But he said, "they're at least paying attention to what they're sticking in their mouth. The study is published in the July 31 issue of the American Journal of Gastroenterology. Within hours of posting a seven-second video of their son learning to walk, Whitney and Adam Dinkel were flooded with messages. The small town of Wenatchee, Washington, is at the center of a virtual gold rush — whether residents like it or not.

Share Tweet Reddit Flipboard Email. Or it could be due to changes made to wheat, Murray said. Featured Video of 2-year-old boy learning to walk inspires millions Within hours of posting a seven-second video of their son learning to walk, Whitney and Adam Dinkel were flooded with messages Cryptocurrency: Virtual money, real power The small town of Wenatchee, Washington, is at the center of a virtual gold rush — whether residents like it or not Notable deaths in Popular on CBS News.

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