Will eating gluten-free foods cure my gastrointestinal problems?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Diets go in and out of fashion as often as Lady Gaga changes her look -- and some diet fads are just as strange. Gluten-free diets are all the rage these days, and we're seeing more and more foods labeled "gluten free." But it's a mistake to assume that buying these products will necessarily help your gastrointestinal problems.  

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and some other grains. Most of us can digest gluten without any problem, but it can cause chaos if you have celiac disease. In you have this condition, eating gluten sets off alarms in the immune system. Normally, the immune system protects against germs and other foreign invaders. But in people with celiac disease, the immune system thinks gluten is a toxin and launches an attack that can damage your intestines and cause symptoms such as stomach pain and bloating, headaches, and other not so wonderful feelings.

Here's the catch: These symptoms can be brought on by lots of other conditions that have nothing to do with gluten. Celiac disease affects about one in 133 people. Yet a lot of folks these days say they're sensitive to gluten, even if they test negative for celiac disease. They may be and our tests are not great --  we're really not sure why that is. So if it helps, stay gluten free. If it doesn't, consider if you want the extra expense of gluten-free foods.

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