Going Gluten Free

Gluten free products

Gluten free products seem to be everywhere nowadays.  This is great for people who are sensitive to gluten and those that have celiac disease, but it’s not a weight loss panacea.  Many of the products are actually higher in calories than the wheat equivalent and sometimes even cost more.  Unless you have been diagnosed with a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, you do not need to go gluten free.

What is celiac disease?

Celiac disease, celiac sprue or gluten sensitivity enteropathy (GSE) is an autoimmune disease. It affects nearly one in 133 people, adults as well as children.  Yet, 97% of people don’t know they have it.

When a person with celiac disease eats gluten, it creates an immune reaction that causes inflammation and damage to the small intestine, this prevents adequate  absorption of nutrients.  Celiac disease is not a food allergy but an autoimmune disorder.  Even small amounts of gluten can cause health problems and there may or may not be any symptoms.

What is gluten sensitivity?

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a non-allergic non-autoimmune condition and doesn’t cause inflammation of the intestine.  It does cause GI issues similar to celiac disease, such as bloating, gas, diarrhea. Unlike celiac disease you cannot test for a gluten sensitivity but it can be diagnosed by exclusion. Meaning, if you test negative for celiac disease and test negative for a wheat allergy, yet you still have a negative response to gluten, you can experiment with a gluten free diet and see if your symptoms subside.

What is gluten?

Gluten is the common name for the proteins found in wheat, barley, rye and triticale.

Symptoms:

There are a broad range of symptoms, here is a sampling  of some of them:

abdominal bloating

abdominal pain

constipation

diarrhea or loose stool

heartburn

nausea

reduced gut motility

vomiting

unintentional weight loss or weight gain

fatigue, lack of energy

missed menstrual periods

bone or joint pain

Vitamin K deficiency

How to get tested?

In order for the diagnosis to be accurate, a person with celiac disease has to be eating gluten for at least four weeks.  A blood test which tests for antibodies, is the first step in diagnosing the disease.  When the blood test is positive for celiac diease, a small bowel biopsy is needed to confirm the diagnosis.  It also gives an indication of the damage to the villi in the intestinal lining.

When the antibody test, as well as the biopsy is inconclusive, genetic testing of the human leukocyte antigen, DQ2/DQ8, can be helpful. This gene indicates a predisposition to develop celiac disease but does not necessarily  mean the person will develop celiac disease.

Celiac disease can occur at any time in a person’s life.  If diagnosed, encourage your family members to get tested as well.

 Treatment

The only treatment for celiac disease or gluten sensitivity is a gluten free diet.

What you can eat

If you can’t eat gluten, which is found in whole grain bread, pastas, cereals, you may wonder what is left to eat?  There is a whole range of foods you can eat, such as: rice, corn, tapioca, beans, sorghum, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, arrowroot, amaranth, teff, soy, potato, flax and nut flours.  Uncontaminated oats in moderation is tolerated by most celiacs. Make sure it is gluten free.



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