Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Gluten-free is no fad

Trend experts are beginning to predict the demise of the gluten-free diet. The problem is, gluten-free is not a fad. It has not even begun to scratch the surface of its reach.

Currently 1 in 133 Americans is estimated to have celiac disease. That means about 3 million people across all ages and races. 95 percent of these people are currently undiagnosed. That means 2,850,000 people still don’t know they need to go completely gluten free. The diagnosis rate may reach 50 to 60 percent by 2019, thanks to increased awareness. That still leaves a solid 30 percent or more who likely won’t be diagnosed by then.

Research indicates that about 18 million more people, or 6 percent of the U.S. population, have gluten intolerance or intolerance/sensitivity, making it the most undiagnosed disorder in the country. 

There is no cure for celiac disease or gluten intolerance/sensitivity. The only treatment is a lifelong gluten-free diet. Two years ago, another “trend expert” predicted that the gluten-free market would collapse “like a house of cards.” But sales reached $2.6 billion by the end of 2010 (a 30 percent growth from 2006), jumped 23 percent to $3.4 billion in 2011, and are now expected to surpass $5 billion by 2015.

In addition, celiac disease is about two and a half times more common among elderly people than it is in the population as a whole. The largest portion of our population, the baby boomers, are going to be elderly in the near future.

According to Dr. Alessio Fasano, M.D., Director of the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research, people with a genetic predisposition for celiac disease may develop it at any time, even if they have been eating gluten for years without any problems. He says this of the disease, “You cannot grow out of it, but you may grow into it.” A recent study in BMC Gastroenterology showed that in screened elderly subjects, a gluten-free diet improved gastrointestinal symptoms, vitamin levels, bone density, as well as reduced fracture risk.

Once diagnosis becomes easier, potentially millions will develop gluten issues on a consistent basis. Does this sounds like a fad to you?

Data came from The University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research (UMCCR), the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), and the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG).

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