Now here's a funny thing. Many people we know seem to have wheat or gluten intolerance (although fewer have a full-blown allergy), but if you talk to doctors, you'd think that almost nobody had it. Instead, doctors have tended to put its prevalence down to hysteria or attention-seeking, especially if the patient happens to be female.
But it's something that even the family doctor may now have to take seriously after scientists in Finland discovered that it's a problem that has been dramatically underdiagnosed.
They were searching for the more rare coeliac disease, an autoimmune response to wheat, rye and barley that, in children, can affect their development. The scientists discovered the disease in 1 in 67 of the 3,654 students, aged from 7 to 16 years, whose blood they tested.
The condition was far more prevalent than the scientists expected and, even allowing for dubious sampling, they conclude that 1 in 99 schoolchildren have coeliac disease, and in most of these cases, it's probably undetected.
So if coeliac disease is at the farther end of a spectrum of gluten-related problems, wheat intolerance must affect many more than 1 in 99 children or adults. This suggests that most of our friends do indeed have a gluten problem, and that they're not, after all, hysterical or attention-seeking.
(Source: New England Journal of Medicine, 2003; 348: 2517-24).