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Study Hall: Most people who go gluten-free don’t have celiac disease

For Study Hall each week, we sort through the deluge of new medical studies and wordy white papers to bring you one that deserves your attention—in plain, healthy English.

breadIt seems like everyone is giving up gluten these days. But according to a study published July 31 in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, less than one percent of the population actually has celiac disease, and the majority of the people swearing off wheat are not those who are diagnosed.

The study: Researchers from the Mayo Clinic wanted to estimate the prevalence of celiac disease in the United States. They tested about 7,800 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) for celiac disease, and also noted whether they had previously been diagnosed and which participants followed a gluten-free diet.

The results: Out of those tested, 35 people had celiac disease, which translates to 0.7 percent of the U.S. population. Interestingly, 29 of those 35 were unaware of their diagnosis. Researchers also found that 55 people who followed a gluten-free diet prior to the study (0.63 percent of the U.S. population) did not have celiac disease. 

What it means: Many people who have celiac disease are unaware that they do. And more people are choosing to cut out gluten for reasons other than a celiac diagnosis. We’re thinking this is likely the result of the growing popularity of wheat-is-evil arguments, including those from physicians like Frank Lipman and William Davis—Allison Becker