Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, and celiac patients have to avoid it or risk symptoms such as diarrhea, cramps pain and exhaustion.
Gluten free products have exploded in the last year, lining grocery store shelves, and popping up all over the Internet, and new research suggests that the auto-immune disorder linked to gluten, celiac disease, is on the rise as well.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, and celiac patients have to avoid it or risk symptoms such as diarrhea, cramps pain and exhaustion. That's because their bodies can't process the stuff.
Increasingly though, there’s another group of Americans who blame gluten for their problems, but do not have celiac disease.
One of them is Michelle Rossi. She struggled with the symptoms of celiac disease to the point of being too tired to even move a mouse for a computer game.
And after being told she tested negative for celiac disease, she found herself still so sick that out of desperation she went gluten free just to see what would happen.
Within weeks, Rossi said she felt so energized that it was as if "someone turned on the lights."
"I was back, I had personality, I had life," said Rossi, who blogs about her ordeal at windycitycooking.blogspot.com." Two weeks after going gluten free I went for a run, and I hate running but I just had so much energy."
The mystery remains: Why have the number of celiac diagnoses been on the rise, and why does the treatment for celiac disease work for people who don't have the condition?
Dr. Stefano Guandalini at the University Of Chicago Celiac Disease Center says there are guesses but no clear-cut reasons.
He says for now, he can describe Rossi as gluten sensitive, and "unfortunately with no available markers for this condition there is no way that any test can show you that you are gluten sensitive. In fact, the biopsies can come back normal."
But as researchers try to explain the increase in people who have gluten problems, the food options for those going gluten-free have also increased.
Robin Steans said when her daughter was diagnosed 10 years ago, the idea of a gluten free pizza never crossed her mind, but now they can have it delivered to their home.
"There's something about it being pre-made and delivered, it kind of feels normal," she said.
And Rossi said as more restaurants offer gluten free options, it's easier to eat out, although she's learned to cook in a whole new way.
For these women, no matter what the diagnosis, going gluten free is a treatment that's worked perfectly.
But Dr. Guandalini has one word of warning. He said while the diet can make a huge difference in the lives of those who are gluten sensitive.
It's not a diet for everyone. It can be higher in fat, and the foods aren't always fortified, so while it has become so fashionable and popular, no, a gluten free diet isn't healthier."