What is Gluten?
Gluten is a general name for a protein component that is found in specific food like wheat, barley, semolina, spelled, farro, rye, bulgur, and graham flour. The gluten is what gives foods their shape and holds them. Together like glue.
Some people experience adverse side effects when they consume diets containing gluten. These side effects are similar to an allergic reaction, but this particular one takes place in the small intestine. The body’s immune system begins to attack the gluten together with villi of the small intense, causing them to be inflamed and eventually damaged. This reaction can cause the small intestines to become permeable to any substance. This is usually the cause of severe diarrhea associated with the disease.
How does gluten affect the body?
Gluten can stimulate your immune system to attack your cells. Gluten sensitivity is strongly associated with other diseases like type 1 diabetes mellitus, Hashimoto thyroiditis, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, vitiligo, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease and autoimmune liver disease.
Cases of neurological illness may be aggravated by consuming gluten diets, a condition known as gluten sensitive idiopathic neuropathy. This can lead to irreversible damage to the cerebellum, the part of the brain responsible for equilibrium and coordination of motor response, a condition known as cerebellar ataxia. Other neurological conditions that tend to improve when gluten is excluded from the diet are schizophrenia, autism, and epilepsy.
What are the symptoms of non-celiac gluten sensitivity?
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is a severe gastrointestinal condition, in which the immune system attacks the villi that line the small intestine. The villi, also known as enterocytes, are responsible for the absorption of nutrient from digested food substance. They also contain essential enzymes (such as lactase responsible for the breakdown of lactose, a sugar product found in milk and dairy products). When the villi become inflamed and damaged, digested substances become trapped in the small intestine. Symptoms include,
- Abdominal distension and pain
- Burning chest pain
- Weight loss
- Loose and watery stool
- Iron deficiency anemia due to inability to absorb iron
- Bone pain due to loss of bone density
- Mouth ulcers
- Pain in the muscle and joint.
- Skin rash with itching.
- Mood and behavioral changes.
- Hair loss and thinning.
- Lethargy and fatigue
Other less common symptoms of asthma, headache, a foggy mind, leg or arm numbness, tingling sensation in the lower extremities and abnormal body movement
Healthy people may also experience celiac-like symptoms, but only happens when they consume gluten and wheat containing diets. This condition is known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Patients with non-celiac gluten sensitivity can also present with symptoms associated with vitamins and vitamin deficiency. These nutrients include iron, calcium, niacin, vitamin D, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, folate, and magnesium.
Vitamin B12, folate and iron are needed by the body for production and maturation of red blood cells. This causes the red blood cell to become abnormally shaped with a tendency to rupture, hence the manifestation of anemia. Vitamin B12 deficiency presents with peripheral neuropathy. The patient begins to experience an abnormal sensation of tingling in the hands and legs, burning sensation (paresthesia), and loss of sensation (numbness).
Vitamin D is needed by the body to absorb calcium from the digestive tract. The calcium is required to build and healthy bones and teeth. Vitamin D deficiency leads to weak bone density a condition known as osteopenia. Also, the weight-bearing bones of the body become easily fractured.
Niacin deficiency causes the skin to become itchy and inflamed. The gingiva becomes swollen and painful. Most importantly, its deficiency can also cause dementia
This vitamins and minerals should be supplemented in diet until the small intestine recover and can absorb them from the small intestine.
These symptoms improve and completely disappear when gluten-containing diets are avoided entirely.
How do I know if I am sensitive to Gluten?
It is hard to differentiate if the symptoms you are experiencing are due to gluten diet or symptoms of celiac disease. Your doctor will conduct a bowel biopsy. A blood test is also done to detect antibodies to gluten in your blood. Your doctor may recommend a gluten challenge, to allow your body produce many antibodies. Two slices of wheat bread are taken for six to eight weeks. A gluten challenge is not advised during pregnancy.
Sensitivity to gluten has a genetic predisposition; it means it runs in the family. The risk is higher in first degree relatives (parents, siblings, and children)
Foods that do not contain gluten
A gluten-free diet is the only available treatment. No drugs are available to treat this condition, so they must be maintained on 100% gluten-free diets
Natural, gluten-free food includes fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, fish, seafood, rice, cassava, potato, tapioca, sorghum, quinoa, soy, millet, corn, gluten-free oats and poultry products. Traditional wheat products such as bread, pasta, and baked products are not free from gluten and should be avoided.
A large percentage of beverages are free from gluten. They include fruit juices, carbonated and soft drinks. Alcohol-containing beverages and red wine are also free from gluten. However, beers, malts, or drinks made from wheat and barley contain gluten.
When Do I Need to see a Doctor?
Do not hesitate to see a physician if you have abdominal upset, a foul-smelling and bulky stool, that exceeds two weeks.
In children, look for additional signs like pot belly or failure to grow despite regular and normal feeding.
If someone in your family has the disease, ask the doctor if you can be tested for other conditions that are associated with gluten sensitivity like type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, thyroid gland disorders or multiple sclerosis.
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Celiac disease – Symptoms and causes. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/celiac-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20352220
Screening – Celiac Disease Foundation. (2018). Retrieved from https://celiac.org/celiac-disease/understanding-celiac-disease-2/diagnosing-celiac-disease/screening/
What Can I Eat? – Celiac Disease Foundation. (2018). Retrieved from https://celiac.org/live-gluten-free/glutenfreediet/food-options/