By Dennis Thompson
Tuesday, September 6, 2016 (HealthDay News) — New research shows that gluten-free diets appear to be the latest fad, but the number of people diagnosed with celiac disease is not decreasing.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease in which foods containing gluten trigger the immune system to attack and damage the small intestine, according to the Celiac Disease Foundation. Gluten is a protein found naturally in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye.
People with celiac disease have no choice but to avoid gluten in their diet. If they don’t, they can damage their small intestines every time they eat something with gluten.
The gluten-free diet also appears to have become a trendy solution for any type of gastrointestinal problem, says lead author Dr. Hyun-seok Kim, MD, Rutgers University Wholesale School of Medicine, Newark, NJ Internal Medicine Resident
“People may have gluten allergies or nonspecific gastrointestinal symptoms and simply assume that a gluten-free diet will help with their symptoms,” says Kim.
The number of Americans following a gluten-free diet tripled between 2009 and 2014, but celiac disease diagnoses remained stable during the same period, the researchers found. period.
Reducing gluten intake may lead to a plateau in celiac disease, study authors say.
In their study, Kim and his colleagues reviewed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a regular survey of health and eating behaviors in the United States
The team identified more than 22,000 survey participants (aged 6 and older) who had undergone blood tests for celiac disease. Survey volunteers were asked if they had been diagnosed with celiac disease or were following a gluten-free diet.
“The treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet,” says Kim.
Based on their analysis, researchers estimate that approximately 1.76 million people in the United States have celiac disease. The findings show that even without celiac disease, about 2.7 million people still adhere to a gluten-free diet.
About 0.5% of survey participants reported that they were on a 2009-2010 gluten-free diet. By 2013-2014, the number was closer to 2 percent, the researchers found.
The results show that gluten-free diets have become a fad, Kim said.
“People who care about their health may read that a gluten-free diet may help their overall health,” he said.
People may also be on a gluten-free diet because they, Kim advises, have non-celiac gluten sensitivity and their gastrointestinal symptoms improve when they stop gluten.
Dr. Arun Swaminath is Director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Program at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. He said more and more patients are opting for a gluten-free diet because they often feel bad.
However, people who choose these diets may not have consulted a digestive specialist (gastroenterologist) or nutritionist. So, they may not be following the kind of strict diets that people with celiac disease require, Swaminath said.
“They’re doing enough that they feel like they’re eating differently, and they think they’re on a gluten-free diet, when they might not be,” he said. “It’s a ‘gluten-free’ diet, so to speak.”
Swaminath says people interested in a gluten-free diet should discuss it with their doctor to ensure that such a diet will help improve their health.
“A gluten-free diet can be difficult and expensive,” he said. “If you don’t have to, do it, and you’ll make your life more challenging when you probably don’t.”
The study was published as a research letter on September 6 Online JAMA Internal Medicine edition.