Gluten intolerance is a fairly common condition in our country. 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.
Gluten intolerance is categorized as an autoimmune disorder, meaning the immune system attacks it’s own body’s tissues. When a person with a gluten sensitivity eats, say, a plate of spaghetti, cells present in the small intestine misread the molecules in the grain as a foreign invader. There is then an interaction resulting in programmed cell death and an immune response, which results in the typical symptoms of gluten intolerance. It is important to identify a gluten intolerance and act accordingly because over time when someone with a gluten intolerance continues to ingest gluten, damage to the small intestine occurs. In its most severe form, gluten sensitivity can manifest in the form of celiac disease, which can be not only uncomfortable to a person, but indeed dangerous as well.
A dietary sensitivity 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 intolerance is usually not the first suspect and people often go years and years without a proper diagnosis. As expected, the initial symptoms of gluten intolerance 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 Sensitivity or Gluten Intolerance Symptoms:
1. 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.
2. Inflammation- Inflammation is an immune response to the gluten.
3. Lactose Intolerance, Dairy Sensitivity or Other Food Sensitivity- This is a secondary condition which results from damage to the small intestine (leaky gut) from the primary problem of gluten sensitivity.
4. 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.
5. Chronic Fatigue, Exhaustion and Dizziness.
6. Body and Joint Aches.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. Head aches.
10. Depression, Irritability and Mood Swings.
As stated above, treatment for gluten intolerance is easy. 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. The answer could be life changing.