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Who can benefit from a gluten-free diet?

Melina B. Jampolis, MD
Internal Medicine
A gluten-free diet is best for those with celiac disease; but those with gluten sensitivities and other autoimmune disorders can also benefit. Watch nutrition specialist Melina Jampolis, MD, discuss who benefits most from a gluten-free diet.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
There are three conditions that make it necessary to avoid gluten or wheat: celiac disease (CD), wheat allergy, and gluten sensitivity. CD is an autoimmune condition in which eating gluten causes inflammation of the mucosal lining and the villi (tiny finger-like tissue that help the body absorb nutrients) in the small intestine. People with this condition are vulnerable to malnutrition, anemia, osteoporosis, unexplained neurological syndromes and infertility, not to mention severe gastrointestinal upset. A wheat allergy triggers a histamine reaction in the gut, on the skin and/or in the respiratory system. Gluten sensitivity is neither autoimmune nor allergic, and can cause gastrointestinal upset as well as bone or joint pain, muscle cramps, weight loss, and fatigue.

More than 2 million people in North America have CD and a large number of others have a negative reaction to gluten or wheat. For all these folks, eliminating wheat or gluten from their diet is essential for improved health. Their challenge is to make sure they find other sources for the nutritional bounty that 100% whole wheat, rye and barley contain: soluble and insoluble fiber, many B vitamins, protein and a wide range of essential minerals such as selenium, copper, magnesium, zinc and manganese. 
Ms. Ashley Koff, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
When it comes to who can benefit from a gluten-free diet, practitioners like myself continuously see that there are people who are gluten intolerant or who have an auto-immune disease where avoiding or reducing gluten intake improves their symptoms. These individuals still need to focus on other components of the diet such as reducing known irritants and choosing anti-inflammatory foods, but gluten still appears to play a key role.

Not all gluten-free products are created equal so not all gluten-free diets should be compared as equals. Organic, whole food, mostly plant-based diets provide nutrition for optimal health -- it's what I call a qualitarian diet -- and if you add to it gluten-free because that's an issue for you, you can gain health improvements overall as well.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.