Gluten sensitivity is one of the biggest buzz phrases in health right now, which has led to a boom of gluten-free products, diets, and advice. But one of the biggest problems with the trend is knowing who truly has trouble digesting gluten and who's just susceptible to all the hype. (Brush up on these 6 Common Gluten-Free Myths.)
Now, we could be one step closer to getting reliable answers thanks to a new test that can diagnose both celiac disease and sub-clinical gluten sensitivity.
Celiac disease affects approximately one to four percent of the population, according to the Celiac Disease Center—although some experts believe that percentage could be much higher and is just underdiagnosed. The autoimmune disorder results in permanent damage to the small intestine when the person eats foods containing gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. In many patients it manifests as stomach pain, diarrhea, bloating, gas, fatigue, anemia, and even osteoporosis. But for some people, especially those in the very beginning stages of the illness, there are no symptoms, even while the damage is already occurring (even more, it's irreversible). Obviously, getting a correct diagnosis, even before symptoms start, is so critical.
In the past, diagnosing celiac required three things: obvious symptoms, diarrhea in particular; a blood test to look for antibodies; and an intestinal biopsy to confirm it. This system was cumbersome and often missed people who were sub-clinical, or not showing symptoms. Now, however, researchers from the University of Granada have developed a simple test that needs on a finger stick and a few minutes to detect the disease markers.
"A puncture in the finger is enough to take a little drop of blood, which is then put in the device and, in case the subject suffers from the disease, a pink line will appear in the strip (just like in pregnancy tests)," explained José Maldonado Lozano, MD, a pediatrician and lead researcher. "Said pink line means that there are auto-antibodies characteristic to the celiac disease present in blood."
In clinical trials, the test proved to be highly accurate as well as cost-effective (one test costs around $10) and requires no special expertise to administer. While this won't necessarily identify people with a "gluten intolerance," this rapid test could be a gamechanger in catching the people who are at risk of serious, long-term damage from eating gluten—and getting them the care they need before their health is permanently affected. And the best part? It's available in stores and doctor's offices now. (And guess what? There's also a New Pill Will Allow Celiac Disease Sufferers to Eat Gluten!)