According to a 2013 survey, a third of Americans actively try to avoid gluten.
But celiac disease, the most severe form of gluten intolerance, only affects 0.7-1% of people.
However, there is another condition called “non-celiac” gluten sensitivity.
It involves an adverse reaction to gluten, in people who do not have celiac disease.
This condition frequently comes up in discussions about nutrition, but is highly controversial among health professionals.
This article takes a detailed look at gluten sensitivity and whether it is something you really need to be concerned about.
What is Gluten?
Before we continue, let me briefly explain what gluten is.
Gluten is a family of proteins, found in cereal grains like wheat, spelt, rye and barley. Of the gluten-containing grains, wheat is the most commonly consumed, by far.
The two main proteins in gluten are gliadin and glutenin, of which gliadin appears to be the biggest offender.
When flour is mixed with water, the gluten proteins cross-link to form a sticky network that is glue-like in consistency.
The name glu-ten is actually derived from these glue-like properties.
Gluten makes the dough elastic, and gives bread the ability to rise when heated by trapping gas molecules inside. It also provides a satisfying, chewy texture.
There Are Several Different Gluten-Related Disorders
There are numerous disease conditions that are related, either directly or indirectly, to wheat and gluten.
The best known of these is called celiac disease.
In celiac patients, the immune system mistakenly thinks the gluten proteins are foreign invaders, and mounts an attack against them.
Additionally, when exposed to gluten, the immune system starts attacking natural structures in the gut wall, which can cause severe harm. This “attack against self” is why celiac disease is classified as an autoimmune disease.
Celiac disease is serious business and is estimated to affect up to 1% of the US population. It seems to be on the rise, and the majority of people with celiac disease do not know that they have it .
Then there is also wheat allergy, which is relatively rare and probably affects under 1% of people.
Adverse reactions to gluten have been linked with numerous other diseases, including a type of cerebellar ataxia called gluten ataxia, Hashimito’s thyroiditis, type 1 diabetes, autism, schizophrenia and depression.
This does not mean that gluten is the main cause of these diseases, only that it maymake symptoms worse in a subset of people who have them.
What Exactly is (Non-Celiac) Gluten Sensitivity?