Gluten-Free for a Healthier Me?

6 Aug

Celiac’s disease is an autoimmune disease.  Essentially, this means that the body attacks itself.  Sounds scary, right?  It is!  Specifically, in celiac’s disease, the body destroys its own intestinal villi.  These villi are necessary for the proper absorption of the nutrients provided by the foods we eat.  What triggers such a reaction?  For folks with celiac’s disease, it’s gluten.

With all of the new gluten-free options popping up in restaurant chains and on supermarket shelves, many people are aware of the fact that gluten may be problematic for at least some portion of the population.  However, there is great confusion over what gluten is and even a debate over how pervasive the problem actually is.

Gluten is a component of certain grains.  It is the storage protein of wheat, barley, and rye, for example.  Oats cause a lot of confusion.  Most people with celiac’s disease can tolerate a moderate amount of oats.  However, due to the nature of processing, many oats are cross-contaminated with gluten.  To be on the safe side, people with celiac’s disease should only consume oats that are certified gluten-free.

A blood test combined with an intestinal biopsy is the usual route of diagnosis.  To be tested, you must still be eating gluten.  Otherwise the results may be invalid.

One of the trickiest aspects of celiac’s disease is that its symptoms manifest differently among its sufferers.  Gastrointestinal complaints are common but not always present.  In other words, your digestive system may truck along just fine but your achy joints could be your warning signal.  Worst of all, you may not have any obvious symptoms at all while your body is actually at war, causing unseen damage. Yikes!

Any of the following symptoms may be seen in a person with celiac’s disease:

*Diarrhea, constipation or intermittent diarrhea and/or constipation (IBS essentially)

*Vomiting

*Nausea

*Bloating

*Gas

*Abdominal pain

*Indigestion/reflux (“heartburn”)

*Lactose intolerance (Lactase in an enzyme that breaks down lactose and is created at the “brush border” where intestinal villi reside.  If your villi are being damaged, lactase may not be created and therefore, a lactose intolerance may develop.)

*Unexplained weight loss

*Dermatitis Herpetiformis (severe itchy rash)

*Migraines

*Numbness in the extremities

*Bone/joint pain

*Fatigue

*Anxiety

*Depression

*Easy bruising of the skin

*Shortness of breath

*Nosebleeds

*Dizziness

*Fibromyalgia

*Hair loss

*Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)

*Increased risk of infections

*Irregular/speedy heartbeat

*Muscle cramps

*Chronic fatigue/weakness

*Seizures

*Mental fogginess

*Lupus

*Sjogren’s syndrome

*Hyper-or Hypo-thyroidism

*Type 1 diabetes

*Pale skin

*Edema (swelling) of the hands & feet

*Mouth ulcers (canker sores)

*Menstrual irregularities

*Elevated liver enzymes

Infants & children may experience additional symptoms, including:

*Small size

*Slow growth

*Failure to thrive

*Tooth enamel deficits

*Developmental delays

*Delayed puberty

*Irritability & behavioral changes

*Concentration & learning difficulties

Untreated celiac’s disease may lead to the following complications:

*Iron-deficiency anemia

*Other vitamin & mineral deficiencies (A, D, E, K, calcium, etc. – You need all of those!)

*Osteoporosis/Osteopenia

*Infertility

*Miscarriage

*Intestinal lymphoma

*Adenocarcinoma (cancer of the epithelium that originates in glandular tissue)

Phew!  See?  So many different forms it can take and some of it is pretty serious stuff!  To make matters even more confusing, a person may test negative for celiac’s but still be gluten intolerant.  In other words, while there may be no intestinal damage taking place, a person may still experience diarrhea every time they consume something with gluten in it.

By this point, you may be wondering whether or not you may be gluten-intolerant or even have celiac’s disease.  The prevalence of gluten sensitivity is hard to estimate, given the lack of proper testing for such a diagnosis.  True celiac’s disease is assumed to affect ~1% of the U.S. population.  However, 95-97% of people with celiac’s have still not been diagnosed!!!  A person may test negative for celiac’s when they are younger and develop it later in life.

The take home message is this: not everybody with some sort of body ailment has celiac’s disease or even gluten sensitivity.  However, getting tested for celiac’s disease or undergoing a gluten-elimination diet may be a worthy endeavor for those with unexplained  health problems.  Gluten is a very pervasive part of the American diet.  This, combined with the numerous manifestations of gluten intolerance/celiac’s disease makes gluten a reasonable target for those attempting to treat certain chronic health problems.

Testing can be expensive, but if you suspect celiac’s disease, it’s best to get a proper diagnosis.  Celiac’s disease (as noted above) is serious business and can even lead to cancer if untreated.  A person with celiac’s disease can be affected by tiny particles of gluten (we’re talking can’t share a toaster tiny).

That said, I understand being poor and unable to afford specialty testing.  For these folks, I recommend a six-week gluten-free diet trial to gauge any potential health benefits of cutting it out. Make sure to do your homework beforehand!  There’s more to it than just switching out your bread.  For example, did you know that traditional soy sauce contains gluten?

In future posts, I intend to provide more insight and resources on the topic.

Here’s what I ate my first day on the gluten-free diet:

Breakfast: oatmeal (certified gluten-free oats soaked overnight in water & apple cider vinegar – Note: soaking grains overnight makes them more nutritious & allows ’em to cook faster!) with blueberries, strawberries, & butter + 1 (butter) fried egg

Lunch: Gluten-free bread (Savory brand – from Fargo, ND! :)), BLT with romaine lettuce, tomatoes (duh), & cucumber slices + BBQ flavored cassava chips & 1/2 frozen banana

Supper: (Butter) fried vegetables – zucchini, peas, jalapeneos & banana peppers + brown beans & shredded cheddar cheese served over romaine letttuce

Naughty dessert: ground flax seed mixed with melted butter & honey (Sounds decently healthy but was naughty because I ate WAY too much of it!)

Sources:

Adamson, E. & Thompson, T. (2007) The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Gluten-Free Eating

Case, S. (2010) Gluten-Free Diet: A Comprehensive Resource Guide

Green, P. (2010) Celiac Disease: A Hidden Epidemic

Shepard, J. (2008) The First Year: Celiac Disease and Living Gluten-Free

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adenocarcinoma

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2 Responses to “Gluten-Free for a Healthier Me?”

  1. Louisa August 7, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    How long are you doing this diet for?

    • thehungryguineapig August 7, 2012 at 4:16 pm #

      I will be following the gluten-free diet until September 1st! I won’t know my September diet until one week prior. I promise I’ll let you know as soon as I do!

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