While all food trends are potentially dangerous, some seem to stick in the public imagination more than others. Few have gained the acceptance, and notoriety, as gluten, a composite of proteins found in grass-related grains that, if you believe some holistic blogs, is responsible for most of society’s (and your digestive system’s) ails.

Or, more specifically, celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder affecting the small intestine which results in a host of gastrointestinal-related problems, including chronic diarrhea, malabsorption, nausea, fatigue, and distention. There is no argument that gluten is a cause of this. What is argued is how many people actually have it (as compared to how many self-diagnosed because they read it on a blog) and, more interestingly, other potential causes not discussed as often.

If untreated celiac disease can lead to cancer and early death; quality of life is greatly reduced in the meantime. Exact numbers of celiac disease sufferers are hard to pinpoint because symptoms are more prevalent in some than others. In some regions it is estimated that 1 percent of the population suffers; in others, the number is closer to one in forty.

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While both conditions show gluten intolerance, doctors say patients can be gluten intolerant without having celiac disease. “People are at risk for other complications of celiac disease if it’s not treated appropriately,” said Dr. Weerasooriya.

While gluten intolerance can develop over time, celiac disease is a lifelong diagnosis that patients are born with. If the symptoms present during childhood and are left untreated, children with celiac disease can later develop delayed growth, bone problems, even neurologic problems. “In children who have celiac disease who are not treated appropriately or identified appropriately they are at risk for short stature, meaning not meeting their full height potential as well as delayed onset of puberty,” said Dr. Lee Smith.

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