Going gluten-free appears to be the latest fad for many people and celebrities alike. However there is a lot of misinformation surrounding eating gluten-free and the reasons to give it a try.
As May is Celiac Awareness Month, this article serves to answer the most common questions about celiac and gluten issues in regards to health and disease. Not all people who have a problem with gluten containing-foods have celiac disease so keep reading to learn more.
1) Celiac disease is the inherited autoimmune disease that causes damage and destruction to the small intestines when gluten-containing foods are eaten. This damage causes severe malabsorption of vitamins and minerals resulting in symptoms and long-term health issues.
Currently, being 100 percent gluten-free is the treatment to eliminate the symptoms and heal the intestines.
2) It is estimated that approximately 1 in 100 people have celiac disease. Celiac is not just a disease of the intestines therefore some people do not have intestinal complaints.
It is strongly associated with other endocrine conditions such as thyroid disease, type 1 diabetes, bone problems, skin problems and iron deficient anemia. It's also associated with growth problems, delayed puberty, neurological complaints, infertility and miscarriage, and more.
3) Testing for celiac is controversial and confusing. There are blood tests such as those for tissue transglutaminase(tTG) or anti-endomysial antibody (EMA). However false negatives are common.
Many doctors want an intestinal biopsy to determine whether or not the intestinal cells are inflamed and damaged. But those who are already gluten-free will have to eat gluten again daily for several weeks to months in order for the damage to return on the biopsy results.
As celiac is genetic, the HLA-DQ2 and DQ8 gene tests can be ordered to see if someone has the risk. Having the gene does not mean a person will have celiac disease, just like having the breast cancer gene does not mean someone develops breast cancer. Talk with your health care provider about this.
4) Diagnosis at a young age is critical. The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center reported, “children who are diagnosed between the ages of 4 and 12 have a 17% risk; from 12-20 years of age the risk goes up to 27% and an individual diagnosed above the age of 20 has a 34% chance of developing another autoimmune disorder.”
It is estimated that some 3 million Americans have celiac disease but 97 percent are undiagnosed.
5) A new category, commonly called "non-celiac gluten sensitivity" or gluten intolerance is not an autoimmune disease causing intestinal damage. However people with this condition still have an unfavorable response when they eat gluten-containing foods.
Therefore though their celiac testing may be negative, a gluten-free diet eliminates many of their symptoms.
If you suspect that gluten-containing foods are causing your symptoms, or if you look back at your family history and several of the conditions overlap with the ones listed above, talk with your doctor about getting tested for celiac disease.
Do this first before considering a gluten-free diet as you may feel better but will have to eat gluten foods again for the celiac testing.
If you are considering a gluten-free diet, please consult an expert such as a dietician, nutritionist, or naturopathic physician. Take advantage of the incredible online celiac/gluten-free websites and books to increase your awareness and education about making the switch.
Meanwhile, continue to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. Choosing donuts or cookies that don't contain gluten doesn't make them any healthier! It just makes them gluten-free.
1. Philip, R., Patidar, P, Saran, S., Agarwal, P., Arya, T., and Gupta, K. (2012). Endocrine manifestations of celiac disease. Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 16(Suppl 2): S506–S508.
2. University of Chicago, Celiac Disease Center. (2013). Fact sheets. Retrieved from
Reviewed May 20, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith