The Dreaded Gluten Allergy May Be Coming For You

According to a recent report, "nearly five times as many people have celiac disease today than did during the 1950s" and "the rate of celiac disease has doubled every 15 years since 1974 and is now believed to affect one in every 133 U.S. residents."

I know a lot of people think gluten allergies —and a lot of allergies in general— are in the mind, or that people just make them up, but as someone who is allergic to oh so many things, I can assure you that most of the time that is not the case.

I would definitely not choose to "make up" an allergy that often forces me to miss out on eating anything other than a side salad at a dinner function, but I can only speak for myself.

I'll let Dr. Alessio Fasano do the rest of the talking:

"There are many theories out there, not all independent of each other and not all of them true," Fasano said.

Celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disorder that causes the body's immune system to attack the small intestine, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center. The attack is prompted by exposure to gluten, a protein found in such grains as wheat, rye and barley.

The disease interferes with proper digestion and, in children, prompts symptoms that include bloating, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation. Adults with celiac disease are less likely to show digestive symptoms but will develop problems such as anemia, fatigue, osteoporosis or arthritis as the disorder robs their bodies of vital nutrients.

There are plenty of theories as to why this is happening, including the "we're just too clean a society, so our immune systems aren't as developed as they should be," theory courtesy of Carol McCarthy Shilson of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, and that "there are theories out there that say breast-feeding will protect you, or prevent celiac disease," but either way, Shilson says the key is early intervention.

If you think you may have celiac disease —even if you were previously symptom-free— it's worth getting screened just to make sure.

And if you do find out you have it and you're worried about your ability to carry on a life of bread-based happiness post-diagnosis, I will say this.

1. Plenty of other people have it.
2. It's 2011.You have the internet and health food stores —hell, even most grocery stores— carrying a ton of gluten-free products.

You'll survive.

Celiac disease on the rise in the U.S. [USAToday]