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Celiac Disease Health Center

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Do You Need a Gluten-Free Diet? Probably Not

Most on Gluten-Free Diets Don't Have Celiac Disease, Study Shows

Many on Gluten-Free Diets Don't Have a Celiac Diagnosis

Lack of a doctor's diagnosis hasn't deterred people from trying gluten-free diets, which have gotten high-profile plugs from celebrities and talk show hosts. The market research firm Mintel estimates Americans will spend $7 billion on gluten-free foods this year. The market for gluten-free products has grown 27% between 2009 and 2011.

Among 55 people in the study who said they were on gluten-free diets, 53 tested negative for celiac disease. That led researchers to estimate that 96% of people on gluten-free diets may not need to be on them.

While experts say it's not necessarily dangerous to eat gluten-free -- many people who try it find they eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and less junk food, for example -- it's not recommended to self-test with a gluten-free diet. You should check with a health care provider first.

"If you suspect you have some intolerance to gluten, it's really, really important that you get tested for celiac disease to confirm or rule out a diagnosis," says Rachel Begun, RD, a dietitian who specializes in celiac disease and is also a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Begun says people who try gluten-free diets on their own may also miss out on key nutrients, like iron and B vitamins.

Also, people who have true celiac disease may have less obvious complications that need to be managed.

"A newly diagnosed celiac patient can have bone problems. They can be deficient in micronutrients like iron, folate, and zinc," Murray tells WebMD. "This is a chronic inflammatory condition of the intestines. Patients need to be followed."

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