Gluten Intolerance Statistics



If you’re new to researching gluten intolerance statistics, you may be surprised to learn just how many people suffer from celiac disease or some degree of significant gluten intolerance. I think it is important to discuss these gluten intolerance statistics because they illuminate how broad and pervasive this condition really is. And because celiac disease symptoms are often either silent or atypical, a vast majority of people with celiac disease are walking around undiagnosed. We have got to do something about this.

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Gluten Intolerance Statistics Provide a Wake-Up Call

We’ve gathered some eye-opening statistics about gluten intolerance. What stands out most clearly is that celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are fairly widespread conditions, yet a very small percentage of those afflicted even realize it. Far more people have celiac disease or gluten intolerance than anyone previous suspected and yet a vast majority of these afflicted individuals are walking around without any idea they may be suffering from symptoms of this condition. As a proponent of celiac awareness, I find this very frustrating, but the good news is that with greater prevalence comes greater awareness. Increased numbers of people are learning more about what is gluten and how it can impact those who are on strict gluten-free diets.

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How Common is Celiac Disease?

The most common cited statistic indicates that more than 3 million people in the US suffer from celiac disease, which is approximately 1 in 133 people. However, more recent numbers suggest the number may be closer to 1 in 100. Either way, the more disturbing statistic is that only 1 in 4,700 have received an official diagnosis.1

That means there are millions of undiagnosed cases of celiac disease in the United States. How many of these people will develop additional autoimmune disorders simply because they don’t know that gluten is making them ill?

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Celiac Disease Runs in Families

Celiac disease is a hereditary condition and if you have celiac disease, you can expect that 4 to 12% of your first-degree relatives will also have the condition.2

This statistic shows how important it is to have your entire family test for celiac disease if one person has been diagnosed with it. While some people will experience celiac disease symptoms such as bloating, fatigue, headaches and weight loss, even more people will be asymptomatic, especially in the early stages.

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Gluten Sensitivities Are Relatively Unknown

Celiac disease impacts more people than Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis and cystic fibrosis combined.3

While there are a number of ways to interpret this particular statistic, what stands out is that multiple sclerosis and cystic fibrosis are better known to the public than celiac disease, yet celiac disease is a much more widespread condition. Perhaps if more people were aware of this disease, more people would be diagnosed and treated before serious complications set in.

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Celiac Disease Increases Likelihood Of Several Serious Conditions

More than one of every ten individuals with celiac disease (more than 10%) may develop one or more of the following conditions:

  • Arthritis
  • Ataxia (see Gluten Ataxia)
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Lactose Intolerance
  • Liver Disease
  • Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (Cancer)
  • Peripheral Neuropathy
  • Obesity
  • Osteomalacia or Low Bone Density
  • Thyroid and Pancreatic Disorders
  • Type I Diabetes

Anemia, Dermatitis, Migraines, and Osteoporosis are also common conditions suffered by Celiacs, and people with untreated celiac disease are at far greater risk of developing some form of gastrointestinal cancer than the average person (some numbers suggest they are more than 50 times likely to develop a GI cancer).

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Gluten Intolerance Even More Widespread Than Celiac Disease

Research conducted by Dr. Alessio Fasano, medical director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Celiac Research, and Dr. Peter Green, director of the Celiac Disease Center and author of Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic, indicates that between 5% and 10% of all people may suffer from a gluten sensitivity of some form.

I haven’t seen a number tallied or calculated to suggest how many people have a gluten sensitivity but are not aware of it, since only 1 in 4,700 who suffer from celiac disease have actually been diagnosed, you can imagine how the number is even worse when you include undiagnosed cases of Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS).

To further complicate matters, recent findings indicate that many people with a gluten intolerance but not celiac disease may have a different form of disease altogether. In the past, it had been assumed that there were different degrees of gluten-sensitive conditions, however a new study published in the BMC Journal in early 2011 suggests that there is a form of gluten sensitivity that is medically different from celiac disease. And none of this takes into consideration the confusion over gluten allergy symptoms.

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The Costs Associated with Gluten Intolerance

It takes an average of 11 years for patients to be diagnosed with celiac disease. The average cost of a misdiagnosis is $5,000 – $12,000 per person per year.4

Gluten-free foods are on average, 242% more expensive than their non-gluten free counterparts.4

Not only are there increased costs and risks associated with not being diagnosed, once diagnosis is made, following a gluten-free diet will be more expensive than a traditional diet. As more people become diagnosed, hopefully the cost of these foods will come down as food providers can reduce costs as they increase production, making it more cost effective for people to stock a gluten free pantry.

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These gluten intolerance statistics make it easy to see that the pre-conceived notion that this condition was rare is incorrect. In the past, the amount of people affected by celiac disease was greatly underestimated.

Citations:

(1) Fasano A, Berti I, Gerarduzzi T, et al. Prevalence of celiac disease in at-risk and not-at-risk groups in the United States. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2003;163(3):268–292.
(2) Rodrigo L. Celiac disease. World Journal of Gastroenterology. 2006;12(41):6585–6593.
(3) National Institute of Health (NIH) via www.celiac.com – http://www.celiac.com/articles/1164/1/Celiac-Disease-Statistics/Page1.html

Additional Research Sources:

Dr. Peter Green, Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic.
Divergence of gut permeability and mucosal immune gene expression in two gluten associated conditions: celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7015/9/23