Gluten is the protein that is found in grains. More specifically, it is contained in wheat, rye, and barley. Some people are unable to tolerate this protein. It triggers an autoimmune response in their bodies. This means they produce antibodies when they eat gluten, that attack their own bodies. These people are given the diagnosis gluten intolerant or as having Celiac Disease.
In a study by the Maryland Center for Celiac Research, it was estimated that 1 in 133 persons in America have celiac disease. In people that have celiac disease an autoimmune response to the gluten they eat causes damage to the small intestine. This damage causes a poor absorption of nutrients and stomach discomfort including bloating, constipation, reflux, heartburn, and diarrhea. Someone with celiac disease can display many other symptoms because of this lost nutrition. Some of the more common non-gastrointestinal symptoms include; fatigue, “foggy mind”, ADHD, anemia, leg numbness, and joint pain.
There is also a much larger segment of the population that is gluten sensitive, or gluten intolerant. This number is estimated at 18 million people in America, or 6% of the population. These persons do not have the damage to the small intestine that those who have celiac disease do. However, persons that are sensitive or intolerant of gluten may also have a great deal of gastrointestinal discomfort. Frequent heartburn, reflux, and irregular stools are some of the most common symptoms. These persons may also experience symptoms in other body systems, secondary to the decreased nutritional absorption. Even though there is no damage to the small intestine there is still a reduced absorption because of the irregular bowel patterns. Here is a list of symptoms taken from glutenintolerancesymptoms.com
- Abdominal Distention
- Abdominal Pain and Cramping
- Alternating Bouts of Diarrhea and Constipation
- Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
- Bloating (see Gluten Intolerance Bloating)
- Bone Density Loss
- Borborygmi (stomach rumbling)
- Constipation (see Celiac Disease Constipation)
- Stunted Growth and Failure to Thrive
- Depression, Anxiety and Irritability (see Celiac Depression)
- Dermatitis Herpetiformis
- Low Ferritin Symptoms
- Malodorous Flatulence
- Malodorous Stools
- Gluten Ataxia
- Grayish Stools
- Hair Loss (Alopecia)
- Headaches and Migraines
- Infertility (see Gluten Intolerance and Pregnancy)
- Joint pain
- Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis
- Lactose intolerance
- Mouth sores or mouth ulcers
- Numbness or tingling in the patient’s hands and feet
- Peripheral Neuropathy (including either a tingling or sensation of swelling your toes and fingers)
- Sjogren’s Disease
- Steatorrhea (high lipids in the stool, which may cause the stool to float)
- Teeth and Gum Problems
- Turner Syndrome
- Vitamin and Mineral deficiencies
- Unexplained Weight loss
How is Celiac Disease Diagnosed?
Your doctor can do a simple blood test to find out if you have Celiac disease. The test will look for antibodies your body produces to gluten. Because your body sees gluten as bad, it tries to fight it like it would a cold or flu by producing antibodies. If the blood test is positive, it means that you have those antibodies.
If the blood test is positive, your doctor will then order an endoscopy. This is to determine if there is damage to your small intestine. If he does not find damage to the small intestine, you would be diagnosed as non-celiac gluten sensitive.
You must be eating wheat products when you are tested to get accurate results. Without gluten in your diet your body will not produce the antibodies that the blood test is looking for.
How is Celiac Disease Treated?
There is no cure for Celiac disease. People that are diagnosed with this disease can only reduce the symptoms that occur, by following a gluten free diet. This means they must eliminate all wheat products and possibly oat products from their diet.
Oats are typically removed from the diet due to cross contamination from wheat products. Even though oats technically do not contain gluten, they are shipped and processed in the same containers and factories as wheat. Oats do contain a similar protein to wheat which may produce symptoms in some people, in addition to the cross contamination issue.
I would remove them from your diet to start, and then see if you have a reaction when you add them back into your diet. You can find organic oats that are gluten free. The companies producing them are careful to avoid cross contamination.
A large percentage of people diagnosed with Celiac disease (estimated at 50%), will also be lactose intolerant. This is because the cassein contained in milk is recognized by the body as being gluten. Cassein has a very similar structure to the gluten molecule, so the body will produce antibodies to it just as it does to wheat.
What is a Gluten Free Diet?
A Gluten Free Diet is one which excludes wheat, rye, barley, spelt, triticale, and kamut. Oats may cause the same reaction in people that are sensitive to gluten. Because oats have a similar protein structure, as well as the cross contamination problem discussed earlier. Oats are processed in the same mills as wheat and shipped in the same containers. Your doctor will most likely recommend removing oats from your diet until the inflammation of your small bowel has healed.
You can eat rice, corn, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, teff, amaranth, and sorghum. There are also gluten free flours made from garbanzo beans, lentils, nuts, tapioca, fava beans, coconut, and breadfruit. Combinations of these flour types are used to make breads, pastas, and baked goods for people following a gluten free diet.
Someone who has a gluten sensitivity also needs to look for hidden sources of gluten in their diet. Many salad dressing, condiments, seasoning blends, and other products may use wheat as a stabilizer. You should check the ingredients listed on the label of any food before purchasing. I was really surprised to find out soy sauce contains wheat! If the product you look at contains hydrolyzed vegetable protein or maltodextrin it should be avoided.
Gluten Free Foods
Because of the increasing diagnosis of gluten sensitivity and celiac disease, many gluten free products are turning up on
store shelves these days. Health food stores are a good source of gluten free products. You can also find an increasing number of gluten free products in the large grocery store chains.
I have been making Gluten Free Chex a regular part of my diet. I think you will continue to see more lines of gluten free products in the mainstream marketplace, but a good product line to look for is Bob’s Red Mill. Bob’s produces a number of gluten free products that are organically grown including oats.
A cheaper way to eat gluten free, is to check out Asian or Indian specialty stores. You can find rice noodles, buckwheat noodles, and tapioca flour in Asian markets. Indian food specialty stores carry a variety of flours that are gluten free as well. These products can not be certified gluten free, they may be cross contaminated during shipping and production, and may not be suitable for individuals that are highly sensitive to gluten. I have had good results with using them, as I do not have celiac disease, but am gluten intolerant. You gotta love a label that says “Ingredients; rice and water” though.
Many food companies have an 800 number you can call to ask questions about specific products. Since the diagnosis of gluten intolerance has increased, most companies will know what gluten is. They will be able to tell you if a product is safe for you to consume.
If dairy is a problem, many grocery stores stock almond milk and coconut milk. I am really enjoying the almond milk and coconut milk. I am using them as a substitute for dairy in recipes with good results. There are also vegan cheeses available. I have not tried any of the vegan cheeses yet. I haven’t heard very good reviews of them.
Olive oil can be a good substitute for butter. You can also substitute nut butters such as almond butter, peanut butter, and soy butter. They should be produced naturally and you should check the label for hidden sources of wheat. Hydrolyzed vegetable protein is a common ingredient in commercially produced nut butters.
From what I have read, yogurt, Parmesan cheese, and aged cheddar do not carry the protein cassein, and can be eaten on a dairy free diet. I’m still experimenting to see if these will work for me.
It seems like there is a lot of variation from person to person in what is tolerated. Some people diagnosed with Celiac disorder can have damage to the small intestine occur with a trace amount of gluten and must be extremely careful to avoid products that may be cross contaminated. Some celiacs are also lactose intolerant, but some can eat dairy without any problems. It really takes testing to see what works for you.
When I first started my gluten free diet, I also cut out dairy products because I wanted to really clean my system. I did this for two weeks. After that, I tried adding some dairy back into my diet, and found the gastrointestinal symptoms came back.
If you think gluten may be a problem for you, I recommend removing it from your diet for a two week period to see how you feel. If you find that you are feeling better after you have removed the gluten from your diet, it would be a good reason to be tested. However, for the test to be successful, you should not be following a gluten free diet. Follow a regular diet for another two weeks prior to the blood test, as it is testing for antibodies produced as a reaction to wheat. For serious, on-going intestinal problems you should always seek the advice of a physician. Your doctor can rule out other diseases and disorders, such as Crohns disease or irritable bowel syndrome, and can also make dietary recommendations for you.
If you are diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten intolerance there are organizations that can help. The Gluten Intolerance Group (gluten.net) can provide information about the disease, and lists of restaurants that offer gluten free menu items. The Celiac Sprue Association (csaceliacs.org.) has information and sponsors support groups. The Celiac Society (celiacsociety.com) provides searchable lists of gluten free foods. The University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research (celiaccenter.org) is also a source of information and publishes studies and research findings.
I hope you have found this article helpful. I will be posting more about gluten free diets and foods, along with recipes I have created for breads, cookies, main dishes, and side dishes. It’s not easy going gluten free but it can change your world for the better. I am amazed at how good I feel!