"Gluten sensitivity could affect many more people than coeliac disease," said Professor David Sanders, consultant gastroenterologist at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital and University of Sheffield. "In evolutionary terms, gluten is a relatively new foodstuff for the digestive system and we have noticed a trend of increased diagnosis of gluten-related disorders over the past decade.
"Research in this area is beginning to support what individuals have been saying: that cutting gluten from the diet can improve their symptoms even if they do not have clinically proven coeliac disease. By defining gluten sensitivity we are able to put a name to the collective symptoms from which people have been suffering for years; this could potentially benefit millions of people worldwide."
The predicted incidence of gluten sensitivity exceeds the more commonly known gluten-related disorders, such as coeliac disease and wheat allergy. If the research leads to more people becoming aware of the condition, Europe's top selling gluten-free food brand, Dr Schär, believes that could boost sales in the sector.
The firm reckons that could result in an incremental category value of £25M a year and add an extra £100M in sales by 2015.
"We've already seen many non-coeliacs opting for a gluten-free diet, and benefiting from it; however, with the recent recognition of gluten sensitivity, a greater portion of the population will be trialling gluten-free products," said Emma Herring, retail brand manager at Dr Schär. "In a difficult economic climate, this is a lucrative sector for retailers and as awareness of this condition grows, support behind gluten-free becomes even more imperative."