What Is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley and rye. It is the “glue” that binds food together. Gluten is also added to foods to achieve the desired result of binding. If you have ever kneaded bread or dough, or you will have noticed those long stretchy bits. That is gluten doing it’s job. Gluten gives food it’s structure and contributes to overall texture.
why are certain people allergic to it?
There are many factors at play when it comes to having a gluten sensitivity known as non-celiac-gluten-sensitivity, (also as gluten intolerance) and Celiac disease which is an autoimmune disease.
A gluten sensitivity/intolerance has similar symptoms to that of Celiac Disease. The symptoms of an intolerance or sensitivity to gluten, although unpleasant, do not cause lasting damage to the gut. Whereas, with Celiac disease, the body triggers a response wherein the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks itself causing permanent damage. More on this below.
What does gluten do to your body in Celiac disease?
Your intestinal gut walls are lined with tiny hairs called “Villi”. These little hairs are the gatekeepers between your intestines and bloodstream, keeping out everything that doesn’t belong in the bloodstream. (like bouncers to a night club!) In someone with Celiac disease, the body sees gluten as a foreign invader and the immune system sends signals to attack the gluten in the small intestine, which results in these little hairs being destroyed. When the hairs are destroyed, this causes holes in the intestinal wall where food particles, toxins, bacteria and other pathogens now enter the bloodstream. (Free entry because now the bouncers are gone!)Without these villi hairs, valuable nutrients are lost as your body cannot absorb them causing a host of other problems including leaky gut.
What are the symptoms of a gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease?
Symptoms vary from person to person and not all symptoms have to present together at any given time. Intensity and frequency also vary. The most common symptoms are:
- Tingling in the fingers, arms or feet. (Almost like “pins and needles” )
- Aching joints
- Headaches or migraines
- Constipation or diarrhea (or a combination of both)
- Depression, brain fog, anxiety, mood swings
- Skin problems
- A general feeling of tiredness, lack of energy
- Weight loss
- Hormonal imbalances
- Poor memory
How do you get tested for Gluten intolerance?
There is no test for a gluten sensitivity or intolerance. There is only a test for Celiac Disease. When you are tested for Celiac Disease, you must be consuming gluten in order for the test to work. A blood test can pick this up but can be inconclusive. A diagnosis may be confirmed by a biopsy of the small bowel taken during a gastroscopy. It is important to get tested so that you can move forward in the right direction. The above symptoms can be present in other conditions which is why if you are unsure, the best is to get tested. If you test negative to Celiac, you could still have a gluten sensitivity or perhaps another underlying problem.
What is the treatment for a gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease?
In order to develop Celiac Disease a person must inherit the genetic predisposition and by consuming gluten over time, the disease is activated. This can happen at any stage in a persons life. If you have the genes for Celiac Diseas, they can get triggered at an stage in life. Since you cannot know for sure whether you have a Non-celiac gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, it is highly recommend that you get tested. Ignoring the symptoms or “cheating” can lead to permanent damage and in the case of Celiac disease, more serious conditions.
I’ve tested positive for Celiac Disease- now what?
The road ahead may seem overwhelming, daunting and confusing. What can/can’t I eat? What about eating out? What about travel and food? Socializing? Where do I start?
Here are a few tips:
*consult a professional nutritionist who specializes in a gluten free diet.
*Read all food labels carefully
*make food from scratch using natural, fresh ingredients.
*avoid processed, packaged, tinned, prepared food as these most likely contain gluten.
*The internet is flooded with many blogs and websites that are dedicated to gluten free living and recipes.
*speak to someone who has been down this road.( Although I am not a nutritionist or dietitian, I have years of personal experience and offer advice, support and guidance on this blog)
The Take away
If you experience any of the above listed symptoms when consuming gluten, it is best to get tested. Ignoring it can lead to serious and complicated health issues that could become debilitating. Going off gluten for many is not a mere fad diet, but a necessity. Also to rule out any other condition which may have similar symptoms as listed above, a test is the only way to make sure.
Note: I am not qualified in medicine or nutrition. I speak from personal experience only in the aim of helping others. As always, consult the relevant healthcare practitioner regarding any health related issues/supplements/treatment. Please read my disclaimer on my blog should you want more information