Beyond that, new research has also identified a subset of people
with less serious though still potentially troublesome gluten sensitivities.
“If you have celiac disease, so much as a crumb of a cookie is going to set off an autoimmune response,” explains Kaplan. “But we’ve come to realize there’s a whole group of people out there — we don’t really know how large or small — who have some level of sensitivity to gluten. These are people who don’t test positive for a wheat allergy and who don’t meet the full criteria for celiac, but if you take them off wheat, off gluten, any number of symptoms will go away.” Among them are such GI problems as gas and bloating, in addition to headaches, fatigue, depression and joint pain.
Some in the field remain skeptical. “Many people will feel better when they cut out processed, refined carbohydrates, including gluten-containing foods — they might have better regulation of blood sugar, fewer fluctuations, when they’re not eating starchy food, and they might lose weight or have less bloating — but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have a disease,” says Chevy Chase gastroenterologist Robynne Chutkan. She contends that the booming, $2.6 billion gluten-free foods industry has a lot more to do with the trend than true health issues do.
How do you know?
How do you know if you have a real gluten issue? Celiac disease is diagnosed with a blood test and confirmed with a biopsy, and Kaplan generally recommends a full medical work-up for patients with any one of many associated conditions, including irritable bowel syndrome, Type 1 diabetes, thyroid disease, infertility and chronic fatigue syndrome, or a family history of celiac. Among the red flags are persistent abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea, as well as unexplained neurologic symptoms such as migraines.
The only way to determine whether you have a gluten intolerance is to completely cut the protein out of your diet for at least two to three months and then, Kaplan says, listen to your body and ask yourself, “How do I feel if take all this stuff out of my diet: More energetic? Am I sleeping better? Do I have less pain? If the answer is yes, then you just shouldn’t be eating [gluten].”