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Are you a little overweight, or bloated, or often fatigued and sluggish, or a trend-follower who is simply committed to living a healthy lifestyle? Are you struggling with a medical condition and interested in trying an alternative remedy, or does that perhaps apply to a child of yours? If so, you may just be tempted to go gluten free — as 21 percent of Americans are already trying to, according to a 2015 poll.
Increasing awareness of celiac, gluten sensitivity, and gluten intolerance means that gluten-free products are now appearing everywhere, both in restaurants and within the ever-growing gluten-free product aisle in your grocery store. That's a great thing for those who truly need to be gluten-free, as well as for the gluten-free industry now worth a steady $9 billion a year. What does it mean for people not diagnosed with medical conditions that make avoiding gluten a smart choice, however? Do you have any reason to go gluten free at all if you find yourself in any of the questions above? Perhaps more importantly — do you have any reason not to?
Who Needs To Go Gluten Free?
Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat and rye that finds its way into surprisingly many processed foods. That salad dressing, for instance, might well contain gluten. When people who have celiac, an autoimmune disorder, consume gluten, their body's immune system wages an attack on the small intestine that ultimately leads to damage of the vili, the small hair-like structures within the intestine that aid digestion. Once that damage is done, nutrient absorption becomes a real problem.
The National Institutes of Health estimate that around one in 133 people suffer from celiac disease, a figure that certainly doesn't even come close to the approximately 21 percent of Americans currently trying to eliminate gluten from their diets. It's not only people with celiac who are medically advised to go gluten-free, however. Those with non-celiac gluten intolerance or sensitivity don't end up with damaged intestinal vili when they consume gluten, but they do experience headaches, fatigue, abdominal bloating, and diarrhea after consuming foods that contain gluten.
Yep, That's Me: I'm Bloated And Fatigued!
If those symptoms sound familiar to you, I'm sorry — it's not nice to live with any of them. While browsing the web or talking to friends, coworkers, or that health nut at your kids' aikido class, you may somehow get the idea that going gluten free will help you feel better, that going gluten free will lead to you lose weight, be rid of your headaches, and give you more energy. It's even possible that you'll come across the idea that gluten-free diets will cure autism. Really, I've read it with my own eyes.
Here's the thing. It's not neither possible nor advisable to try to DIY-diagnose yourself with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance. If you think you have either of these conditions, you need to see your physician, describe your symptoms, and get referred for a full medical examination that includes blood tests and an intestinal biopsy. (Here's an interesting tidbit, by the way: in order to get diagnosed properly, you need to be eating gluten during the process!) If the end result is that you are neither celiac nor gluten intolerant, you don't need a gluten-free diet. Could you still benefit from one?