A new study discovered more Americans are eating a gluten-free diet despite not having celiac disease. The population avoiding gluten but not having the disease almost tripled between 2009 and 2014 and some scientists believe it could be due to diet trends and marketing.

Researchers from the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School examined data from the Center for Disease Control’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). That data combined interviews, and physical examinations, and all subjects underwent serologic testing for celiac disease. The test examines antibodies in the blood, to determine if the patient is intolerant to gluten.

The population avoiding gluten but not having the disease almost tripled between 2009 and 2014. Photo credit: Themocracy
The population avoiding gluten but not having the disease almost tripled between 2009 and 2014. Photo credit: Themocracy

The study was limited by a reduced group of people identified by the NHANES as having celiac disease or eating a gluten-free diet. The research showed between 2009-10, 0.52 percent of the population ate gluten-free without having the disease, and in 2013-14, it increased to a 1.69 percent. The number more than tripled and the trend could keep growing among Americans.

The increase of people on a gluten-free diet was especially pronounced for women and individuals with 20-39 years old. Women avoiding gluten rose from 0.59 percent to 2.15 percent, and young adults between the ages of 20 and 39 increased from 0.37 percent to 2.42.

Regarding those who do suffer from celiac disease, between 2009-10 and 2013-14 the proportion of the 22,278 Americans surveyed with the condition stayed almost constant at 0.7 percent in 2009-10, 0.77 percent in 2011-12 and 0.58 percent in 2013-14.

The study was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine. Its lead author, Dr. Hyun-seok Kim, sais this is the first time data from the NHANES is used “to investigate time trends,” The Guardian reports.

The new report did not examine the reasons behind the gluten-free eating, but Kim said he thinks wider availability and reduced prices of gluten-free products could be behind the trend for health-conscious people and those who self-diagnose gluten sensitivity hoping to alleviate gastrointestinal symptoms.

Dr. Kim said that it could also be a marketing consequence because young females are a group affected by commercials and social media, and it could explain why women are deciding to follow a gluten free diet, more than men. Further research will be done to determine the characteristics of those with a gluten-free diet

Could people without celiac disease be affected by avoiding gluten?

Dr. Daphne Miller of the University of California, San Francisco, says researchers should use Kim’s study as an opportunity to understand what is really behind the significant increase of Americans choosing to avoid gluten and to discover how this diet might affect gastrointestinal function, cognition, and other symptoms.

Miller published a study titled “Maybe It is Not the Gluten” and wrote that removing gluten from the diet also removes fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. Those components are known as FODMAPs, and their absence may alleviate gastrointestinal symptoms similar to those suffered by celiacs.

The Guardian reports Dr. Miller noted a 2013 Australian study that found fewer FODMAPs in the body of people with gastrointestinal symptoms reduced them. There were no adverse effects when gluten was introduced again in the diet.

Source: The Guardian