Gluten intolerance is a fairly common condition in the United States. In fact, some studies show that it affects approximately 15% of the US population. It is characterized by an inability to handle foods containing gluten.
So what exactly is gluten? Gluten is a composite of the two proteins gliadin and glutenin. The word gluten is derived from the Latin word for “glue.” Gluten is a mash up of starch, gliadin and glutenin and is found in grass related grains such as wheat, rye, barley and sometimes oats. Most breads, pasta, crackers and cookies contain gluten since they are typically made with wheat flour.
Celiac disease is when gluten causes the body’s immune system to attack the lining of the small intestine. It is an autoimmune disorder, meaning, that when gluten is ingested, the body attacks itself (the lining of the small intestine). Gluten intolerance (also known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity), on the other hand, also involves a reaction by the immune system but, unlike celiac, the immune system attacks the gluten itself. In its attack, the body will fight the gluten by producing inflammation.
A dietary intolerance to gluten can carry with it a variety of symptoms which unfortunately are often misdiagnosed since the symptoms are common to other diseases and disorders as well. Gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance is usually not the first suspect and people often go years and years without a proper diagnosis. As expected, initially, gluten intolerance symptoms are mostly gastrointestinal symptoms, although other outside symptoms, do present themselves as well. The good news is that this is easily treatable by simply eliminating gluten from one’s diet.
Gluten Intolerance Symptoms:
- Digestive Symptoms – Digestive symptoms are the most common. This includes abdominal pain, bloating, cramping, constipation or diarrhea, constipation and diarrhea (alternating), weight loss or weight gain.
- Inflammation – Inflammation is an immune response to the gluten.
- Lactose Intolerance, Dairy Sensitivity or Other Food Intolerance – This is a secondary condition which results from damage to the small intestine (leaky gut) from the primary problem of gluten sensitivity.
- Malnutrition and/or Anemia – Since the small intestine may be damaged in cases of gluten intolerance, and since food may be excreted rapidly as waste, the body often has a hard time absorbing nutrients, leading to this symptom developing. Specifically, a low iron level is common.
- Chronic Fatigue, Exhaustion and Dizziness.
- Body and Joint Aches.
- Frequent Infections – The small intestine makes up 70% of the immune system and since gluten sensitivity causes damage to the small intestine, infection is a common symptom of gluten sensitivity.
- Steatorrhea – This is the presence of excess fat in feces. This can lead to further embarrassing and painful complications, such as anal leakage or incontinence. Fat is present in the stools due to poor digestion.
- Depression, Irritability and Mood Swings.
As stated above, treatment for gluten intolerance is straightforward. Simply eliminate gluten containing foods. This means that gluten-containing grains such as those found in bread, cereals, and pasta must be completely eliminated, as well as drinks such as beer, since these involve fermenting grains containing gluten.
If you experience any or all of the above symptoms, you may want to get tested for a gluten intolerance or celiac disease or try a gluten elimination diet. The answer could be life changing.