Celiac disease, an immune system reaction to gluten, affects an estimated one in every hundred people. You may have noticed much greater awareness of celiac disease and gluten-free foods in recent years, and asked yourself whether all the buzz was really due to an increase in prevalence of the disease – or just to better diagnosis.

A recent study published in the July issue of the journal Gastroenterology shows quite conclusively that the actual incidence of celiac disease has grown about 400% since the early 1950s. In the study, blood samples drawn at Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming from 1948 to 1954 were compared to two sets of blood samples from people living in Minnesota today: one group matching the ages of the Wyoming subjects at the time of their blood-drawing, and a second group whose birth years matched the original subjects.  Compared to the samples drawn sixty years ago, blood from the birth-year group was four times as likely to contain an antibody produced by celiacs, while blood from the younger, age-matched group was 4.5 times likelier.

“Celiac disease is unusual, but it’s no longer rare,” said Joseph Murray, MD, the gastroenterologist who headed up the study. “Something has changed in our environment to make it much more common.”

In a related development, Patrick Dominguez, MD, of Harvard and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, reported in May that consumption of beer may increase women’s risk of psoriasis – perhaps due to the gluten found in beer but not present in other alcoholic beverages that were not found to heighten the likelihood of psoriasis.

The good news for celiacs (and psoriasis sufferers) is that only a few grains – wheat, barley, rye, and triticale (a wheat/rye hybrid) – contain the kind of gluten protein that celiacs cannot digest. This means that common grains like corn, rice, wild rice, and oats (unless contaminated during growing or processing) are great whole grain choices for those with celiac disease, as are lesser-known grains like amaranth, buckwheat (not a wheat!), quinoa, sorghum, and teff.

Want to learn to cook gluten free, for personal or professional reasons? Attend the fourth annual Gluten Free Culinary Summit this fall, where Kara will be speaking on whole grain choices for celiacs at the East Edition in Hyde Park, NY; there’s also a West Edition in Denver.  (Cindy)



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Since 2004 the FDA allows 25 % of wheat flour to be barley, which add nutrition to the flour. It is difficult to find a product with out barley. Barley has a different gluten from wheat and it is high on the allergy list. Can you comment on this? Since in the past 10 year the invent of "gluten free: has risen to the fore front. I wonder if there is connect between barley and the high need for gluten free?

We are not familiar with any provision by which FDA allows 25% of wheat flour to be barley -- but if you can send us a source, we'd be happy to look into this. Both refined wheat flour and whole wheat flour have what is called a "Standard of Identity" under federal law, whereby only certain things can be included in them -- and those standards of identity do not include barley in wheat flour. While the gluten proteins in wheat and barley are slightly different, people who have celiac disease cannot tolerate wheat, barley or rye gluten. 

Experts in gluten and sensitivity to it actually think that most people following a gluten-free diet either have no medical reason to do so -- or may actually have different health problems than gluten sensitivity. So while there's high interest in gluten free diets, perhaps, there may not be high need for gluten free -- and I am not aware of any expert who links a recent increase in barley consumption to an increase in gluten sensitivity.

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