Gluten-Free Diets Are Popular, But Who Can Benefit?

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Walk into the grocery store, and you can find gluten-free foods on almost every aisle. Even restaurants are increasingly catering to the wheat-free weight loss crowd. Just one problem: Only 1 percent of people who have celiac disease, reported CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook on July 20. Moreover, some people who actually should avoid gluten because of celiac don't realize their condition.

Defining Celiac Disease
People who suffer from this condition often feel sick after they have eaten. However, by shifting to a gluten-free diet, they experience dramatic improvement and relief from their symptoms. "Once you go on the gluten-free diet...you can feel a lot better, just like a flower getting some water in it," says Dr. LaPook. "You can blossom."

If you have celiac disease, you have an autoimmune reaction that causes you to be very sensitive to a protein component of wheat called gluten. Over time, your body's reaction results in inflammation damaging your small intestine lining. This damage prevents your body from absorbing critical nutrients.

Who Has It
Both children and adults may have celiac disease. "n children, malabsorption can affect growth and development. The intestinal irritation can cause stomach pain, especially after eating," according to the Mayo Clinic.

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Dr. Peter Green, a renowned expert who is director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University Medical Center, notes that 10 years ago only about 3 percent of people with celiac disease knew they had the condition. Although now about 17 percent are aware, more than 80 percent remain without a diagnosis for their problems.

What are the Signs
Dr. Green says that the symptoms and signs include:

  • severe abdominal pain
  • diarrhea or, conversely, constipation
  • weight loss
  • fatigue
  • brain fog
  • migraines

Diagnosis and Diet
Don't try to diagnose yourself. If you think you have celiac disease, talk with your doctor or other primary care provider. If you do have celiac disease, you will need to avoid all foods containing any form of gluten, which includes bread, pasta, cereal and any processed food with wheat, rye or barley.

"Gluten is in a lot of things, unfortunately," says Dr. LaPook. "People who have true celiac disease really need to be careful."

Other People Who Can Benefit
people who have conditions other than celiac disease may also benefit, according to Dr. LaPook. Some have "non-celiac gluten sensitivity," a condition that has increasingly gained attention in the medical community. "I would urge people to go to a doctor and try to really figure out what's going on," he says.

But trying to lose weight is not a reason to go on a gluten-free diet, notes Dr. LaPook. Those glutten-free goodies still may have sugar and fats, so you may not lose any weight.

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