Gluten Free Lives On

March 28, 2011

Gluten free products have been experiencing a dramatic increase in shelf space lately; some attribute this growth to a trend…

Gluten free products have been experiencing a dramatic increase in shelf space lately, some attribute this growth as just a trend; Packaged Facts reports US sales of gluten free at 2.64 billion dollars in 2010; a compound annual growth rate of 30 percent from 2006 to 2010. Is it time we think about where this so called trend may end… or will it?  The latest report by Packaged Facts titled, “Gluten- Free Foods and Beverages in the U.S., 3rd Edition” predicts that the market will continue to grow over the next five years, although at a slower rate, projecting the US market for gluten free to approach 5.5 billion dollars by 2015. Some still claim that gluten free is just a trend, although awareness continues to increase as does the incidence of celiac disease, but at the same time so does the rise of skeptics and disbelievers. 
Is celiac disease the driver behind this trend? Apparently not, as Packaged Facts also found that the top reason consumers purchased gluten free was a perception that products are “generally healthier”.  While only about 10 percent of gluten free consumers said they bought gluten free products because they or a member of their household has celiac disease or an intolerance to gluten, wheat or other ingredients.
Findings from a new study in the journal BMC Medicine may help propel gluten free even further, as results show that gluten can set off a distinct reaction in the intestines and the immune system, even in people who don't have celiac disease. Lead author Alessio Fasano tells the NY Times that, “For the first time, we have scientific evidence that indeed, gluten sensitivity not only exists, but is very different from celiac disease.”  This news is sure to impact those who eat gluten free for other reasons than celiac disease- but suspect a broad range of ailments may be linked to their gluten intake, and may also quiet skeptics.
It’s important to keep in mind that celiac disease is arguably one of the most common autoimmune diseases, affecting around 1 in 133; this amounts to approximately 3 million Americans, according to the CDC.  Its prevalence is significantly underestimated, and in fact affects more Americans than type 1 diabetes, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis and cystic fibrosis combined.  Sadly, only three percent are aware that they have inherited this condition and are intolerant to the protein gluten, found in wheat (including durum, semolina, spelt, kamut, einkorn, and faro), barley, and rye.
Those with celiac disease who consistently consume gluten can increase their chances of developing gastrointestinal cancer by a factor of 40 to 100 times that of the normal population. Furthermore, lymphoma develops in up to 15 percent of patients with untreated or refractory celiac disease.  For these reasons it is essential for celiacs to follow a strict gluten free diet.
For some, gluten free may be the new trendy health kick, but celiacs and now those who suspected gluten sensitivity - now vindicated in making the gluten free choice - will not be ditching this diet any time soon.