A gluten-free diet may not be just for those diagnosed with celiac disease, as many have previously thought. Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder, is caused by an intolerance to gluten and can affect people at any age. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and countless amounts of other food and everyday products. It gradually damages the intestines of people diagnosed with celiac, which prevents absorption of necessary vitamins and minerals, while setting off an immense amount of other health problems. Perhaps, the most devastating symptom of celiac disease is malnutrition.
However, doctors are slowly learning the effects that gluten can have on people testing negative for the disease. While celiac disease has a strict definition, gluten sensitivity is a broad spectrum. Gluten intolerance of any kind is more than often under-diagnosed, since gluten sensitivity has such a broad range of symptoms and underlying causes. Individuals with each level of gluten sensitivity can experience various types of symptoms. Both celiac disease and gluten intolerances can be brought upon by emotional stress, infection, surgery, pregnancy, or childbirth. Large amounts of evidence have proven that emotional trauma and stress can play a huge role in worsening symptoms.
Approximately 60 million people in the United States alone suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and while testing negative for celiac, it is estimated that at least half of those individuals are sensitive to gluten. People with celiac and gluten intolerances have stomachaches, gas, bloating, and diarrhea – as do those people with IBS. Celiac and gluten sensitivity can also cause fatigue, constipation, and abdominal pain – as does Crohn’s disease. Colitis also has some similar symptoms. In fact, there may even be a cross over between intolerance to gluten and some of these other diseases and disorders. Gluten sensitivities start in the intestines, but do not necessarily stay there. Often, it may end up affecting other organs. If undiagnosed for a long time, a food intolerance can often lead to diabetes, anemia, iron deficiency, bowel cancer, or osteoporosis. Here is a general list of symptoms from gluten sensitivity, as well as celiac disease:
- gastro-intestinal problems (bloating, diarrhea, constipation, gas, pain)
- fat in the stools (due to poor digestion)
- cramps, tingling, or numbness
- aching joints
- exhaustion or fatigue
- irritability and behavioral changes
- weight loss or weight gain
- nutritional deficiencies (due to malabsorption)
- skin rashes
- irregular menstrual cycle
Doctors are beginning to recommend to individuals that test negative for celiac to try a gluten-free diet anyway. If gluten sensitivity is present, the individual will typically feel better within a week, sometimes even days, after trying the diet. Cutting out gluten is the most reliable way to determine if there is, in fact, a sensitivity to the protein. However, it is not suggested to try this diet alone. A nutritionist or doctor should always be consulted, as to determine if the diet is right for the individual and their body, since everyone may react differently. Changing diets too quickly may do more bad for the body than it does good.
While experts are learning that gluten is fairly indigestible in many people, more awareness is beginning to be brought up towards gluten sensitivity. More companies are starting to market gluten-free products and sales of such have increased by more than 16% in 2010 alone. Although intolerance, away from celiac disease, is such a broad topic, doctors are further studying gluten sensitivities to get a better understanding. It may not be too much longer before America is fully aware of this disorder.