Celiac disease, also called celiac sprue, affects an estimated 1 in 133 Americans, many of them unaware that they have a genetic disorder in which the body perceives gluten in their food as an alien invader and launches an immune system attack on the intestines and other organs. Symptoms can range from diarrhea, abdominal pain, fatigue and headaches to malnourishment, osteoporosis, neurological conditions and in some cases, infertility and cancer.
Celiac sufferers must strictly adhere to gluten-free eating. Even a stray crispy crouton in a salad could be enough to launch an internal immune system siege that can sicken them.
Like those with wheat allergy, which can trigger hives, congestion and potentially fatal anaphylaxis, celiac patients must be vigilant about the contents of everything they eat. Offending foods containing wheat products include such surprising items as salad dressings, cold cuts, egg substitutes, imitation crabmeat (surimi), some herbal teas and licorice.
In addition to wheat, rye and barley, gluten can be found in exotic grains like spelt, kamut, faro and triticale. Even some oat products may contain traces of gluten picked up in the field or during processing.
With the addition of people suffering from gluten sensitivity, the market for foods once considered in the dietary fringe is expected to grow further. Packaged Facts predicts it could approach $5.5 billion by 2015.