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Gluten Sensitivity: Fact or Fad?

Analysis Questions Benefits of Gluten-Free Diet for Many

‘Gluten-Free Here to Stay’

Pediatric gastroenterologist Alessio Fasano, MD, runs the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland.

Fasano tells WebMD that his own research suggests that 5% to 6% of the population -- about 18 million Americans -- has some degree of gluten sensitivity.

While he concedes that many people who may not benefit have jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon, he says many others who do not have celiac disease or wheat allergies still benefit from following a gluten-free diet.

That is what many food manufacturers are likely counting on, with Anheuser-Busch, Kellogg’s, General Mills, and many others now promoting “gluten-free” versions of some of their best-selling products.

“I believe the fad of the gluten-free diet will not last,” he says. “But because there are many, many people who are truly gluten-sensitive and sick, the diet will not go away, either.”

Diet Can Be Dangerous, Expert Says

Stefano Guandalini, MD, who is president of the North American Society for the Study of Celiac Disease, says the true prevalence of gluten sensitivity probably will not be known until biologic indicators exist to diagnose the disorder.

He adds that one very real danger of following a gluten-free diet is eating too much fat and too little fiber.

Guandalini is medical director of the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center.

“Someone who needs to be on a gluten-free diet and is closely monitored can benefit tremendously from it,” he says. “But for everyone else, embracing this diet makes no sense.”

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