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New developments in celiac disease education, diagnosis, and treatment every day are refining the public’s understanding of celiac disease and gluten-free diet. This post from NewHope360 traces the evolution of the awareness of gluten and celiac disease among health professionals and general public.
While I strive to be at the top of my gluten-free game, I need to constantly hear what’s new in the research and education field of everything gluten. Attending Natural Products Expo West gave me the opportunity to learn from key experts in the field.
Progress in understanding celiac and gluten
That education started with “The Evolution of Gut Health & Gluten,” where Elisa Bosleyof Delicious Living and Dr. John Gildea from the University of Virginia detailed the evolution of gluten and the issues surrounding it. While many see celiac disease as a new issue facing the world today, it actually was recognized formally in the 1880s by Dr. Samuel Gee. However, doctors at the time didn’t know exactly how to treat it like we do nowadays, as evidenced by the concept of “banana babies,” those raised with a banana-only diet (which happens to be gluten-free, but also very restrictive). It wasn’t until the 1940s – 1950s that we really figured out the diet, came out of our bananas thinking and understood that taking gluten completely out of the diet was the way to treat the disease.
While the idea of celiac might not be new, it took another decade or two for us to truly understand the idea of celiac as an autoimmune disease; recognize flattened villi and biomarkers in those affected; and create effective diagnostic tools. In the early 2000s we learned that about one in 133 people have celiac and understood distinct triggers, recognized distinct biomarkers and honed biopsies and antibody tests for the disease.
So while celiac certainly isn’t new, the education about the disease and the research behind it and gluten’s effects on the body is still growing every day. There are more than 300 symptoms that can affect every system of the body, and to make it even more difficult to diagnose, some people have no symptoms at all. In 2014, the FDA gluten-free labeling ruling finally went into effect. While this may seem like a lot of progress, there is still so much to discover and so much work left to be done – even when it comes to clarifying FDA expectations and how gluten is labeled in things like medication.
The market moves mainstream
But why are so many people eating gluten free in 2015, even though only one in 133 have celiac disease (and more might have gluten sensitivity)? In another Expo West panel on gluten-free labeling, Jennifer North of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness stated that over 30 percent of adults in the U.S. are looking for gluten-free products. Industry experts are projecting continued growth of gluten-free sales, moving the market from niche to mainstream. What’s contributing to this growth?
- Better education and awareness of celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. This includes getting family and friends on board. I can understand this personally, because my significant other eats gluten free to keep a celiac-friendly household even though he is not gluten sensitive.
- Better quality of gluten-free products that are on par (or almost) with gluten-full products.
- Certifications that lead to consumers trusting more products on the market.
- Food tribes and gluten-free faddists! It was found that 25 percent of gluten-free eaters do so for weight loss, even though research has found the notion of a connection between eating gluten-free and losing weight to be false. And a whopping 30 percent of U.S. adults are reducing their gluten intake because of its healthier perception.
Unfortunately, the fad mentality surrounding gluten and gluten free creates a very confusing environment that most people in the media are happy to report on, as seen inrecent articles in publications like Forbes. If you want to start an argument, just talk about gluten to strangers.
Is gluten the problem, or something else?
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