It is hard to go in a grocery store and not see shelves of “gluten-free” products starting to take over the shelves. As the hype spreads like wildfire, many are wondering if they should partake and eliminate gluten from their diets. How often have you wondered, am I gluten intolerant? Should I and my family change our meals too??
Over 3 million Americans have celiac disease, 18 million have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and 9 in every 100,000 Americans suffer from gluten ataxia. Despite popular belief, gluten intolerance is not the same as celiac disease, wheat allergies or or gluten ataxia.
Blood tests are necessary to accurately diagnose whether or not a person has a sensitivity, allergy or intolerance to wheat gluten. People with these conditions may experience similar symptoms after they have consumed gluten, but the effects on their organs and long-term health are vastly different.
Gluten sensitivity refers to a condition caused by the ingestion of gluten protein, a substance found in wheat, barley and rye. Though people with a gluten sensitivity might experience similar symptoms to someone with celiac disease, they likely do not exhibit the same intestinal damage as those with celiac disease. Almost 20 million people in the US alone suffer with a gluten sensitivity.
Similarly, Celiac disease is a medical condition in which the absorbing surface along the small intestine is damaged by gluten. As a result, the body becomes unable to absorb proper nutrients essential for good health such as protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals. Many people who suffer from celiac disease show signs of intestinal inflammation and damage to the small intestine if the condition goes untreated.
Gluten ataxia, though it might exhibit some similar symptoms to celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, is a very different condition entirely. This autoimmune neurological disorder causes irreversible damage to the brain. Furthermore, this form of ataxia can damage the cerebellum, which is responsible for a person’s ability to control muscle coordination as well as gross motor skills.
Common symptoms of these gluten induced ailments include diarrhea, bloating, gas, abdominal pain, depression, tiredness, skin issues, headaches, mood swings, extreme hormonal imbalance, anemia, irritability, weight loss, and joint pain.
The most common treatment for gluten related illness is a complete elimination of gluten products from the diet. Grains such as wheat, barley, rye, and cross contaminated oats are to be avoided. Gluten digestive enzymes are on the market and claim to have success allowing gluten intolerant people to consume wheat products. These products are most often met with mixed reviews from the medical community as they don’t undergo clinical tests and can be very “risky” according to many celiac specialists for their patients.
Speak to your health care provider if you exhibit any of this symptoms or have a history of gluten intolerance or celiac disease in your family to determine if a gluten-free diet is best for you.