The growing number of gluten-free foods crowding grocery shelves may leave you wondering if there’s a health advantage to going gluten-free.
The short answer: No, unless you are among the two million people in the United State withceliac disease. Once thought to be rare, this autoimmune disorder affects about one in 133 people. If you have an immediate family member with the disease—a parent or sibling—you are at slightly increased risk to have celiac disease too.
Those with celiac disease can’t tolerate gluten—a common protein found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale, a cross between wheat and rye. If someone with celiac disease eats foods with gluten, they can suffer a range of digestivesymptoms, including bloating, pain, gas, diarrhea, constipation and vomiting. That’s because eating gluten activates their immune system to attack the lining of their small intestine because it considers the gluten to be a dangerous, foreign invader akin to bacteria or viruses.
Here’s the interesting part: Not everyone with celiac disease displays the classic symptoms. In fact, adults are less likely to show the classic symptoms and instead may experience unexplained anemia, fatigue, arthritis, itchy skin rashes and more.
Also, people with type 1 diabetes have an increased risk of having celiac disease without the classic symptoms. There’s growing evidence that people with fibromyalgia may also be at increased risk for celiac disease.
So, there’s no nutritional advantage to reach for gluten-free products unless you have celiac disease. But if you think you might be one of those who could have this disorder without symptoms, it’s worth talking to your health professional.