Gluten is a protein which is found in wheat, rye, and barley. Other grains, like oat and spelt, as well as processed foods can contain gluten as well without being labeled as such. The properties of gluten are what hold the bread and cake together. However, these same properties are what interfere with the breakdown and absorption of other nutrients. The undigested gluten can trigger your immune system and affect the intestines, which in turn can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, and other systems that are gastrointestinal related.
Gluten Intolerance vs. Celiac Disease
A medical history along with clinical tests can diagnose celiac disease and/or wheat allergy. Blood tests for Celiac disease measure the amount of particular autoantibodies in the blood, specifically the IgA class and IgG class. These autoantibodies are produced as part of the immune response. A tissue biopsy of the small intestine is performed to confirm a diagnosis. Although there is a definite classification of Celiac disease, those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity is relatively poorly understood. This leaves gluten sensitivity a very troublesome diagnosis to make.
Certain criteria need to be met before gluten sensitivity can be confirmed. The spectrum of conditions that arise with gluten sensitivity is rather broad and includes everything from energy to brain function.
In some people, the immune system sees gluten as the enemy and will unleash weapons to attack it, causing inflammation in the intestines as well as in other organs and tissues. This can cause serious problems outside the gut, including weight loss, anemia, osteoporosis, infertility and miscarriage, skin rashes, headache, depression, fibromyalgia and joint pain. This is partly due to inflammation and partly due to poor absorption of vital nutrients.
Daniel Leffler, M.D., a gastroenterologist and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School states that “Gluten is fairly indigestible in all people.” He also estimates that half of the 60 million people in the U.S. who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome are probably sensitive to gluten (1).
Will a gluten-free diet work for you?
First, for the serological testing, you must currently be on a gluten containing diet for the tests to be accurate because the antibodies are produced by the immune system in response to substances that the body perceives as threatening (2). If there is no gluten in the diet, then there is no response that can be measured. If Celiac is confirmed by a biopsy of the small intestine, then a lifelong commitment of a gluten-free diet must be made.
Those who think they have gluten sensitivity should try cutting all wheat, rye, and barley out of the diet for a week or so and see if they feel better. Dee Sandquist, a registered dietician and spokesperson for the American Diabetic Association describes that “Much of the gluten-free products can be unhealthy and junk due to the added sugar and fat to stimulate the texture and satisfying fluffiness that gluten imparts (1).” These products are also found to have less Iron and Vitamins B and D in them as well.”
The rapid increase in gluten sensitivity is no surprise considering the modern Western diet consists of mostly grains. In the past years gluten was mixed with other grains, beans, and nuts. The use of gluten in products today has increased and pure wheat flour is now milled into refined white flour. Most people, in general, benefit from limiting or avoiding grains whether you have gluten intolerance or not. Grains break down into sugar which raises insulin. The rise of health problems related to insulin resistance is well known and has also influenced other health problems such as obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and cancer.
Gluten may be hidden in foods under labels such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein, texturized vegetable protein, natural flavoring, malts, and starches (3). Just because a food is labeled as gluten-free doesn’t mean you can eat as much of it as you want. Eliminating processed foods, white breads, white pasta, corn, potatoes, and snack cakes will reduce gastrointestinal symptoms one might be experiencing. Naturally gluten-free products include wild rice, quinoa, amaranth, teff, millet, brown rice, and buckwheat. You can find gluten-free oats in certain markets now. There is also a growing trend where using almond flour, cassava flour, and coconut flour in place of wheat and other grain-based flours.
Remember, carbohydrates are good for nothing but burning. If you are not burning them off with active daily activity and/or exercise then the body is storing them for future energy requirements. When eating gluten-free you need to be careful that you’re replacing the gluten-containing foods with healthy choices, like vegetables and other whole foods. If you instead go for gluten-free processed foods, like gluten-free cookies, pasta and breads that are now commercially available, there’s a good chance that you will actually gain weight and develop malnutrition. In one study of Celiac diagnosed individuals, 81% actually gained weight over 2 years (4).
Avoiding gluten does not replace a healthy diet. In fact, it is very common for gluten sensitive individuals to lack important vitamins and minerals due to the anatomical inflammation causing improper breakdown of nutrients.
It is important to know where start by consulting with a nutrition expert. Getting a comprehensive blood analysis will not only define your state of health but will allow an expert to advise you on specific amounts of vitamins and minerals you need to be healthier. Don’t hesitate. Call us today to schedule your appointment. ·