Celiac Disease is one of the most common, undiagnosed genetic disorders with an estimated 1 in 133 people, or 2 million people, afflicted with the disease in the United States alone (figures cited from here and here). Persons of Irish, English, and other Anglo backgrounds tend to be more prone to the disease than those of other ethnic backgrounds.
This disease is not a food allergy, but an auto-immune disorder that people do not grow out of over time. The results of this disorder vary widely by individual, and can range from mild to severe, even requiring hospitalization.
Luckily the exposure to this condition has increased greatly in recent years, and doctors are more likely to acknowledge Celiac Disease as a possibility when confronted with a patient showing unusual symptoms. In the past, sufferers of Celiac have been misdiagnosed as having everything from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, thyroid conditions, fibromyalgia, or worst of all, simply as hypochondriacs. I’ve been to Celiac Disease support groups and listened to people in the their 60’s who were misdiagnosed for decades, told by doctors that it was “all in their head” and they simply accepted their poor quality of life as fact.
As proper diagnosis of Celiac Disease has increased over the last several years, so have the dietary options for sufferers. Better labeling of ingredients in food products and increasing numbers of gluten free products and gluten free food manufacturers have give Celiac sufferers more choices in the grocery store.
Even large restaurant chains have recognized the potential market in offering gluten free menu options. PF Chang’s, Outback Steakhouse, Chili’s, and On The Border all now have dedicated gluten free menus. These might not be the best restaurants for those of us oriented towards local, organic fare, but some recognition ought to be given since they have made an effort to helping those suffering from gluten intolerance.
There are also some terrific support groups and sources of information online , including The Celiac Disease Foundation, Celiac.com, The Mayo Clinic, and The Gluten Intolerance Group. Each has tons of information about the disease and how to cope if you or a loved one has been diagnosed.