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The Number of Celiac Disease Diagnoses Isn't Rising, But the Number of Americans on Gluten-Free Diet IS

What ditching gluten means for your health.

Do you buy gluten-free breads and pastas? Do you have celiac disease (a condition where your immune system attacks the gluten you eat, harming your small intestine, and maing it diffcult for your body to absorb nutrients)? If you answered yes to the former and no to the latter, then we have another question for you: Why? 

If you’re like most Americans, it’s because you think removing gluten from your diet is taking a step in the right health direction, like making the swap from white bread to whole wheat. But, according to a new study from Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, gluten-free diets aren’t known to provide any health benefits for people without celiac disease or gluten sensitivity and/or intolerance. Yet, the number of people on gluten–free diets is climbing.

In the study, researchers collected data between 2009 and 2014, collectively analyzing the habits of nearly 22,300 U.S. adults and children (at least 6 years old) who had been tested for celiac disease or interviewed about prior diagnoses. 

Initially, only about .7 percent of people were diagnosed with celiac disease. Meanwhile, .52 percent of people with celiac disease were adhering to a gluten-free diet. Those numbers might not seem very substantial, but that’s only a slice of the population; and only about one percent of the population suffers from celiac disease. What’s more, the instances of celiac disease has actually dropped in recent years, yet the number of people eating gluten-free has risen between 2013 and 2014; see below.

Celiac Disease Prevalence
2009-2010 prevalence .7
2011-2012 prevalence .77
2013-2014 prevalence .58

Percentage of People W/Out Celiac Disease Avoiding Gluten
2009-2010 .52
2011-2012 .99
2013-2014 1.69 

The researchers say the trends may be related since gluten consumption has been identified as a risk factor of celiac disease—so decreasing gluten consumption may be contributing to a plateau in celiac disease.

In fact, a separate 2015 Gallup poll found one in five Americans say they actively try to eat gluten-free foods, while 17 percent say they avoid gluten-free foods, and 58 percent say they don't think about gluten-free foods either way.  

If you don't have celiac disease, but experience bloating, gas, and headaches after eating gluten, you could have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. You might want to consider taking a 2-week break from gluten. Always talk to your doctor or an RD if you're unsure whether any diet change—even a brief one—is right for you. 

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