If you’re reading this you either are, or know someone who is, gluten free. Nearly as common is knowing someone who is gluten free who never got the blood antibody screening to test for celiac disease. Here are some common reasons:

  • By choice: “Let’s see if I feel better.” Or “Why bother getting a celiac blood test if I just need to be gluten free to treat it?” And then the person stays gluten free because indeed the symptoms are now gone.
  • By doctor’s recommendation: “Let’s see if you feel better.” If the patient does feel better, a doctor may simply recommend they stay on the diet, or they may recommend a gluten challenge to test for celiac disease.

The problem with this thought process is that people who eat gluten free without a celiac diagnosis may feel they can have gluten occasionally. If someone really has celiac disease (and doesn’t know it), eating any gluten can be detrimental to their health. Improperly treated celiac disease causes cancer, infertility and even other autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis or Hashimoto’s disease. It is important to know if the person is dealing with an autoimmune disorder like celiac disease or if they have an intolerance, which causes miserable symptoms but won’t be as destructive to the whole body like celiac.

Gluten Free Without Celiac Diagnosis

According to a Mayo Clinic study published in January of 2017, more than 3 million Americans follow a gluten-free diet. 72 percent of gluten-free eaters are noted as PWAGs (people without celiac disease avoiding gluten), that’s roughly about 2.2 million people. A new screening method researched in Norway could mean detecting celiac disease for that population, even if they are already on the gluten-free diet.

Important Discovery

Currently, the only blood screening for celiac disease must be done while a patient is still on the gluten-free diet because it looks for immune responses to gluten. Researchers out of Oslo University Hospital in Norway discovered an experimental blood test that, according to Reuters, “is designed to detect immune cells in a blood sample that are specifically targeted at gluten proteins, even when the individual hasn’t been recently exposed to gluten.”

Why the New Test is Important

Many people don’t consult their physician before testing out a gluten-free diet.  And as we mentioned at the beginning of the article, testing for celiac disease after going gluten free isn’t simple. ”In such cases, guidelines recommend . . . performing a gluten challenge involving daily consumption of gluten for up to eight weeks, followed by an endoscopic procedure for a biopsy taken from the small intestine (duodenum),” lead study author Dr. Vikas K. Sarna told Reuters. “Our blood test may replace such a gluten challenge and duodenal biopsy.”

Some people find themselves in this conundrum. Parents, for example, may see a significant improvement in their child’s symptoms when they start a gluten-free diet. As a result, they won’t subject them to an eight week gluten challenge (and restart of their symptoms) to obtain a celiac diagnosis. I couldn’t have done that with my daughter. Some patients get stuck in this “land of gray” where they never know if they have celiac because they need eat gluten again to get a diagnosis.

But this new revelation from researchers in Norway could change this.

The new experimental test “was 96 percent accurate in distinguishing celiac disease patients from people who didn’t have celiac disease but were still following gluten-free diets,” the Reuters article explained.

Sarna said the current test is better at excluding rather than confirming a celiac diagnosis and more research is needed. With a new year upon us, let’s hope this innovation in celiac testing moves forward with vigor so people can benefit from the much-needed information this test could provide.

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