It is now well-known that gluten intake is frequently associated with various serious conditions such as celiac disease, diabetes, and fibromyalgia. Years ago, most people had never heard of this substance or its related medical problems. But today, supermarkets as well as organic markets contain gluten-free sections or even entire aisles. What is this mysterious food component and why is there such great interest in avoiding it?
Gluten, a word unknown to everyday speech even ten years ago, is the all-encompassing name for a group of proteins found in wheat and bread made from wheat. In addition, gluten-containing wheat is found in a wide variety of prepared foods including beer, soy sauce, potato chips, fish cakes, salad dressing, soups and broth, and deli meat. Gluten proteins are even found in prescription and over-the-counter medications, vitamin tablets, cough syrup, shampoo, sunscreen, and makeup.
The prevalence of gluten in prepared foods and household products is a serious problem for individual and public health owing to the increasing numbers of people who are discovering they are allergic to these proteins. Recent studies suggest that gluten sensitivity affects between 1 and 6% of people worldwide.1 Some sources state that approximately 20 million people in the U.S. are affected by gluten sensitivity (also known as gluten intolerance).
This is not merely a matter of having a relatively mild allergy such as hay fever that may be treated with non-prescription drugs. Gluten sensitivity may cause a wide range of severe gastrointestinal disorders and is associated with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus), and Grave's disease. Gluten sensitivity has been linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism.2 Overall, gluten sensitivity is frequently determined to be a factor in the development of numerous seemingly unrelated conditions.
As a result of the vigilance and high index of clinical suspicion on the part of their chiropractor, family physician, or internist, many people have learned of the presence of gluten allergy and have chosen to follow a gluten-free diet. The results of adopting a gluten-free diet are often profound and substantial. Longitudinal studies are generally not available as yet, but numerous case reports have appeared in the peer-reviewed literature which document the benefits of such an approach.3
Going gluten-free does require a lot of time and effort. But thanks to extensive coverage in broadcast, print, and online media, gluten-free products have become increasingly available in local stores. Many of us will achieve greater levels of health by taking on being gluten-free.
1 Volta U, et al: Non-celiac gluten sensitivity: questions still to be answered despite increasing awareness. Cell Mol Immunol 10(5):383-392, 2013
2Lau NM, Non-celiac gluten sensitivity: questions still to be answered despite increasing awareness. PLos One 2013 Jun 18;8(6):e66155
3Annicchiarico G, et al: Improvement of renal function in epidermolysis bullosa patients after gluten free diet: two cases. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci 16(Suppl 4):138-141, 2012