Should You Eat Gluten Free? Part Two

Eating Gluten Free for Health Reasons

GF sandwich at Fig Tree

Gluten free sandwich from Fig Tree Cafe in San Diego, CA.

You may know someone who has celiac disease or non celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS).  In fact, celiac disease (celiac sprue) has increased 400% in the past forty years, and it’s estimated that 18 million Americans have NCGS!  Gluten intolerance includes a spectrum that ranges from sensitivity to celiac sprue.  But did you know that gluten can play a role in other diseases?  Today we’re going to discuss symptoms of gluten intolerance, the spectrum of gluten disorders, and other chronic illnesses that may be tied to gluten.

Symptoms

Until recently, doctors looked for very specific symptoms before diagnosing celiac disease, which was mainly diagnosed during childhood.  “Failure to thrive,” diarrhea, weight loss, vomiting, and fatigue were classic indicators.  Today we know that gluten intolerance can present as a wide range of vague and seemingly unrelated symptoms, and can occur at any age.

Below are a list of symptoms that may point to a gluten intolerance:

Digestive – constipation and/or diarrhea, weight gain or loss, bloating, gas, foul smelling stools, nausea, chronic stomach pain/cramps.

Neurological – headaches, migraines, joint pain, fibromyalgia, brain fog (difficulty concentrating).

Hormonal – mood swings, depression, anxiety, menstrual problems, osteoporosis or osteopenia, fatigue.

Immune System – gets infections easily, joint pain, arthritis, canker sores, skin rash, history of cancer, autoimmune disease.

Genetic – you have a family history of arthritis, lymphoma, any autoimmune disease, celiac sprue, or gluten sensitivity.

Obviously, having one or even more of these symptoms doesn’t mean you are allergic to gluten.  If you have several symptoms, however, it might be worth it to investigate further.

Sensitivity vs. Celiac

Symptoms of NCGS and celiac disease are almost identical.  The difference between the two are that celiac causes lasting damage to the small intestine and a sensitivity does not.  In both cases, the gluten itself doesn’t attack your body.  Instead, your immune system sees proteins in gluten as a foreign invader and attacks the proteins in its own tissues.

There are many unanswered questions when it comes to celiac disease vs. NCGS.  Some researchers hypothesize that for celiacs, gluten ingestion triggers an attack in the small intestine. In the case of NCGS, your body fights the “foreign invaders” with inflammation, both inside and outside the digestive tract.  There is also much debate about whether or not NCGS can lead to celiac or other autoimmune diseases if left untreated.

Link Between Gluten and Chronic Illness

Your body’s immune system protects you from foreign invaders, viruses, and infection.  An autoimmune disease is when the body mistakenly attacks itself, as in the case of celiac disease and NCGS.

Eighty percent of your immune system is in your gut.  If your digestive system isn’t healthy, you aren’t healthy.  And when your immune system is compromised, you’re vulnerable to a variety of autoimmune disorders.  It’s not surprising then, individuals with a gluten intolerance are ten times more likely to have an autoimmune disorder.  There are more than 80 types of disorders.  Some of the more common ones are:

  • Type I diabetes
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Osteoporosis and osteopenia
  • Graves disease (thyroid)
  • Lupus
  • Asthma
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Hashimoto’s (thyroid)
  • Sjögren syndrome
  • Crohn’s disease

Additional illnesses that may be connected with gluten are:

  • Irritable bowl disease/inflammatory bowl disease
  • Anemia
  • Epilepsy
  • Lymphoma
  • Obesity
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Neuropathy
  • Migraines
  • Autism
  • ADHD/ADD

Is the rise of autoimmune disease, cancer, obesity, and autism in the past 20 years a coincidence?  Could there be a link between our love affair with bread, pasta, cake, processed food, and our country’s increased morbidity rates?

When to See a Doctor

If you suffer from an autoimmune disease or have a family history of it, it makes sense to get checked for gluten intolerance.  If you’re experiencing several of the symptoms listed above you should also consider getting tested.

Consider the following if you decide to get tested:

  • See a doctor who is knowledgeable in celiac sprue and NCGS.  Tests vary for these two disorders.  Patients who test negative for celiac disease are oftentimes (incorrectly) told they don’t have a problem and can continue to eat gluten.  A gluten sensitivity will not show up on an allergy panel.
  • Request to be tested for the genes HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8.  In the book “The Gluten Effect” by Drs. Vikki and Richard Peterson, they explain that HLA genes carry the blueprint for the cells of the immune system.  These genes tend to surface on individuals with gluten sensitivities.
  • You know your body.  In my opinion, the most reliable test is to eliminate all gluten for two to four weeks and listen to your body’s response.  If you feel an improvement in your health and well-being, doesn’t it make sense to eliminate gluten from your diet?  Once you have determined that gluten may be an issue, it is important to follow up with a doctor to determine if celiac disease is the culprit.  Keep in mind that a celiac test will be negative if gluten is not in the system, so you cannot be gluten free at the time of testing.

Conclusion

There’s overwhelming evidence that our increased consumption of gluten is contributing to increased chronic illness in America and other countries.  My goal is to provide you with this information so you have the knowledge and power to make your own informed choices.  We cannot rely on our current healthcare system – a system of masking symptoms with drugs rather than discovering the root of the problem.  If we can diminish pain or eliminate illness without drugs and by adopting a healthier way of eating, doesn’t it make sense to do just that?

~Christi

Also in this series:

Should You Eat Gluten Free? Intro

Should You Eat Gluten Free? Part One

Foods: Gluten vs. Gluten Free

Should You Eat Gluten Free?  Part Three

Should You Eat Gluten Free?  Conclusion

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