Eating gluten-free, from the Harvard Health Letter

Gluten seems to be the food ingredient non grata these days. Why? Partly because doctors are diagnosing more cases of celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder whose symptoms are triggered by gluten, a protein-starch combination found in wheat, barley, rye, and spelt. For now, a gluten-free diet is the only way people with celiac disease can deal with their condition.

In addition, a growing number of people fall into a gray area: they don't have celiac disease, but they do have a hard time digesting gluten. There are no tests for this problem, aside from trial and error with a gluten-free diet, reports the June 2009 issue of the Harvard Health Letter.

There's another group of gluten-free converts: those who blame gluten for a wide range of medical conditions. There is evidence of an overlap between celiac disease and other autoimmune disorders, particularly type 1 diabetes. And celiac disease sometimes affects the brain and nerves. But based on what is currently known, it is a big leap to blame gluten for autism, to cite one example, and an even bigger jump to prescribe gluten-free eating as a treatment for it.

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