Gluten free labels can be seen on packaging at the supermarket at a rapidly increasing rate. But many question what gluten even is, or what the importance of eating a gluten free diet is.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat products. There are three reasons why a person would eat a gluten free diet. The first is that the person suffers from Celiac Disease. The second is that a person may have an allergy to gluten. The third reason a person may avoid gluten is that they are sensitive to it, in other words they are gluten intolerant.

Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where the body sees gluten as an invader and launches an attack. This attack wears and eventually destroys the villi that are located in the small intestines, which then prevents the proper absorption of nutrients into the body. Celiacs can develop any time in life and cannot be cured. The only treatment is to uphold a strict gluten free diet. If a person has a family history of the disease, they are at greater risk for developing it. It is also common in Caucasians and those of European ancestry. Women are more likely to suffer than men.

Celiac disease can be diagnosed through detecting certain antibodies in the blood (tTGA, EMA). Genetic testing can also determine one’s risk of developing the disease. A biopsy of the small intestine is also procedure.

A person who has Celiacs may also have the following:

  • Other autoimmune disorders
  • Addison’s Disease
  • Down Syndrome
  • Intestinal cancer
  • Intestinal Lymphoma
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Thyroid disease
  • Type 1 Diabetes

They are also at risk for the following:

  • Other autoimmune disorders
  • Certain intestinal cancers
  • Low blood count
  • Low blood sugar
  • Infertility or miscarriage
  • Liver disease
  • Iron deficiency
  • Vitamins and mineral deficiencies
  • Nervous system disorders
  • Gallbladder malfunction
  • Neurological manifestation

Gluten can be found in Barley, Bulgur, Durham, Farina, Graham flour, Kamut, Matzo meal, Rye, Semolina, Spelt, Triticale and Wheat. It can also be found as an additive in products like lipstick and lip balm, medicines, vitamins, play doh and toothpaste.

Symptoms of Celiac Disease

  • Abdominal pain/bloating/gas/indigestion
  • Constipation
  • Decreased appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Stool that floats, is foul smelling or fatty
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Malabsorption of nutrients
  • Bruising
  • Depression/Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Growth delay in children
  • Hair loss
  • Itchy skin (Dermatitis Herpte)
  • Missed menstrual period
  • Mouth Ulcers
  • Muscle/joint cramping
  • Nose bleeds
  • Unexplained short height
  • Dental enamel defects
  • Osteopenia/Osteoperosis
  • Bone/joint pain
  • Weakness
  • Tingling/numbness in hands or feet
  • Migraines

Gluten Allergy and Gluten Intolerance

A Gluten allergy or intolerance is different from Celiac Disease because they do not create additional likeliness of resulting disease. However, an allergy or intolerance manifest in many of the same ways as Celiac, making a person very uncomfortable or sick. An allergy to gluten is like Celiac disease in that it sees gluten as an invader but it does not cause damage to the body. An intolerance simply makes a person unable to tolerate it as part of their diet. There are no other treatments for any of the afflictions other than to adhere to a gluten free diet.

It is important for anyone considering Celiac disease, or a gluten allergy or intolerance as the cause for symptoms that are occurring to consult a physician before taking a course of action. In the case of Celiac disease, if one were to begin a gluten free diet prior to testing, the test is likely to come back with a negative result because the body is attempting to heal itself and will not show the antibodies present. It is also possible for someone attempting a gluten free diet to become low on iron, calcium, fiber, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin or folate, so be sure to consult a dietician before attempting.