Gluten-free: how and what?

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Coeliac disease is one of the most common food intolerances worldwide. But lately it has also become a fad to say you suffer from this disorder, which is often confused with other food intolerances. Let’s take a closer look at this trend.

Mass screening programmes show that the proportion of people with coeliac disease is roughly 1%. Currently the prevalence of this disorder in Belgium is still unclear, which is why we assume it is the same as in other Western countries, namely 1%.

Women suffer from coeliac disease twice as often

For many years, coeliac disease was assumed to be a rare childhood disease but the condition is much more prevalent than we think. Women especially are affected by it twice as often as men. The incidence of coeliac disease has become five times greater in the past 25 years.

The incidence is underestimated

The actual incidence of coeliac disease is still very much underestimated, according to experts. Often the disorder is not diagnosed because the sufferer does not always present the most typical symptoms (diarrhoea, weight loss, growth disorders, malabsorption syndrome). It may take up to seven years in some cases to get the right diagnosis!

Gluten sensitivity: a whole different story!

People with non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) feel sick when they eat gluten. The onset of symptoms occurs shortly after gluten is ingested and disappears when gluten is eliminated from the diet. Gluten sensitivity causes digestive and other problems, which are similar to the symptoms people experience when they suffer from coeliac disease or irritable bowel syndrome.

Three to six per cent of the population on average is estimated to suffer from gluten sensitivity, but because many sufferers are self-diagnosed (without seeking the advice of a GP), it is difficult to establish an exact percentage.

A trend with worrying consequences…

The only treatment for people who suffer from coeliac disease is a gluten-free diet but nowadays everyone seems to be cutting out gluten! This trend is definitely good news for the producers of gluten-free products. A gluten-free diet, however, is only appropriate when “prescribed” by a doctor. If the patient is not diagnosed as suffering from coeliac disease, then the risks outweigh the benefits. Health professionals must therefore better inform patients about the possible risks of a gluten-free diet.

References :
Catassi et al. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition, July 2014, Volume 59.
Volta et al. BMC Medicine, 2014, 12: 85.
Catassi et al. Nutrients, 2015, 7(6), 4966-4977.
Chauvel et al. Le sans-gluten se démocratise à tout-va, LSA, 2015.
Catégories : Nutrition