Gluten-free foods are one of the fastest growing niches in the food industry, which is great when you’ve discovered you have a gluten sensitivity. However, I always caution my patients to be careful with foods labeled gluten-free as they may be made in factories that also process gluten. Also, there has been no oversight — manufacturers have been able to label their foods gluten-free without any testing or regulation.
Fortunately, the FDA is now enforcing labeling laws passed a year ago for foods labeled gluten-free — they must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. They also cannot be made in a factory that processes gluten-containing foods. This is good news for those of you with autoimmune reactions or other chronic health issues triggered by gluten.
No doubt it is the market value of these foods that have caught the FDA’s attention — sales of gluten-free foods are expected to reach $15 billion annually by the end of 2016. The media attention of this story has been focused on celiac disease, which affects between 1 and 2 percent of the population, and gluten-free living as a “trend.” But this issue extends far beyond celiac disease or food fashion.
For one thing, many people with celiac disease are not diagnosed because they do not have gastrointestinal symptoms. Also, non-celiac gluten sensitivity is estimated to affect significantly more people than celiac disease. Again, this largely goes undiagnosed because the majority of people do not have digestive symptoms. Also, conventional gluten and celiac testing does not cover the full spectrum of immune reactions to gluten. Many of these people figure out on their own they feel better when they avoid gluten.
Gluten sensitivity can also cause skin rashes and other issues, joint pain, thyroid problems, and other symptoms. The tissues most affected by gluten are the brain and nerves. Because gluten triggers inflammation in those who are sensitive to it, how that inflammation manifests depends on the individual.
For more information about the link between gluten sensitivity and autoimmunity, inflammation, and neurology, read my book Why Isn’t My Brain Working?
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