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Are You Gluten Intolerant?

Mar 01, 2018 07:00AM ● By Brian Saucedo

It is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide

As many as 18 million Americans may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, according to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. More than 55 diseases have been linked to gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. The vast majority of people who have either gluten intolerance or celiac disease are never diagnosed. 

When someone suffers from gluten intolerance, they are unable to properly digest this protein, causing a variety of symptoms that range from mild to severe and include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, bloating, gas, nausea, and more. Gluten intolerance is not the same thing as having a gluten allergy. 

Because the symptoms of gluten intolerance can mimic those of other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, you may need one or more diagnostic tests to confirm the disorder. A blood test to measure the presence of specific autoimmune antibodies is initially performed, followed by an intestinal biopsy if the blood tests are positive. The biopsy removes tiny samples of your small intestine to check for cellular damage consistent with celiac disease. If these results come back positive as well, your healthcare provider or dietitian can offer advice on removing all gluten from your diet, so your intestinal cells can heal. The only proven gluten intolerance treatment is removing the protein from your everyday diet and eating only gluten-free foods. 

For those that do suffer from gluten intolerance, diet change is a must in relieving the symptoms. There are many foods that are naturally gluten-free, such as most meats, dairy, fruits, and vegetables. Patients seeking gluten treatment must be wary of ingesting foods that contain wheat, barley, or rye, which includes common foods and ingredients such as wheat flour, breads, pasta, cereal, crackers, and many other foods. Removing all gluten from your diet usually alleviates symptoms within two to three weeks. Other than causing often uncomfortable symptoms, eating gluten doesn’t generally cause any harm to the body unless the patient is diagnosed with celiac disease. 

Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disorder that can occur in genetically predisposed people where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. It is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide. Two and one-half million Americans are undiagnosed and are at risk for long-term health complications. Celiac disease is a severe form of gluten intolerance that causes the body’s immune system to attack the villi that line the walls of the small intestine when gluten is present. These villi—tiny, hair-like tissues that absorb nutrients from food—are essential to proper digestion. The damage caused by celiac disease can often lead to malnutrition, anemia, weak bones, painful digestion, infertility, and other conditions. In cases where celiac disease has been diagnosed, gluten treatment is required. Removing all gluten from the diet is essential in stopping intestinal damage, relieving symptoms, and allowing the villi to heal.

If you suspect you may be suffering from gluten intolerance, or the more serious celiac disease, contact your health care provider who can perform tests to see if you suffer from either condition.

“Are You Gluten Intolerant?” 
is provided by the University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center."