Gluten intolerance more prevalent than previously thought

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Nearly 2 million Americans suffer from celiac disease but most are unaware of their condition, according to a new survey. The prevalence of the disease in the US was unknown before the study. Celiac disease is an extreme gluten intolerance that leaves its victims feeling fatigued or queasy after indulging in a bagel or slice of pizza.

Researchers interviewed 7,798 participants about their diets and took serum samples to test whether participants had antibodies found in gluten-intolerant patients. Based on their results, they calculated that 0.71% of Americans have celiac disease. That number is higher for non-Hispanic whites at 1.01%. Of the people surveyed, 0.63% were following a gluten-free diet although 80% of those people were not diagnosed with celiac disease. That discrepancy reflects the growing popularity of gluten-free diets in recent years, researchers pointed out. Many families may also adopt a gluten-free diet to keep cooking simple even when not everyone in the household has the disease.

While celiac disease is rare, other gastrointestinal conditions may make people sensitive to gluten such as inflammatory bowel and Chrone’s diseases. Still, the authors advised against self-treatment with a gluten-free diet, implying that anyone with a suspected gluten intolerance should discuss possible diet modifications with their health practitioner.

Reference

Rubio-Tapia A, et al. The Prevalence of Celiac Disease in the United States. The American Journal of Gastroenterology 2012; doi: 10.1038/ajg.2012.219.

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