Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What you need to know about Gluten (Part 1)

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Nowadays you see hundreds of gluten-free diet (GF) products & ads everywhere, even in pet food! You hear that one of the celebrities announces that he is going for (GF) diet. There are hundreds of blogs specialized in (GF) diet recipes. But has gluten become an overused word? Who should really go for gluten-free diet?

Some people think GF diet is a diet for weight loss or a way to live healthy. Should everyone get tested for celiac disease or gluten sensitivity? Should we panic about gluten content in our food? Even though there are many products naturally-free of gluten, food companies maybe use the gluten-free statement to sell their products. Does GF diet offer extra benefits for the human body? Let’s start by defining gluten.

What is gluten?

It’s a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. This protein gives the dough the elasticity  

And helps it to rise and gives the bread its desired chewy texture.

What is Celiac disease (CD)?

It’s an inherited chronic autoimmune disease, which means when you eat food containing gluten, your body releases antibodies to fight the unknown substances in the intestinal villi, so the body will damage its owns tissues. It can happen at any age, so it can attack children, adults and the elderly.

How can you know if you have (CD)

It’s a bit hard to diagnose (CD) because the symptoms are similar to other intestinal diseases like Crohn’s disease and irritable bowl syndrome (IBS) and others.The classic general symptoms are:

  • Abdominal Bloating and gases.
  • Constipation alternating with diarrhea.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
Other symptoms that may not shared by all patients are:
  • Fatigue. 
  • Headaches and migraines 
  • Bone and joint pain in the elderly. 
  • Unexplained iron-deficiency anemia. 
  • Depression. 
  • Infertility for women and men.                                                                                                                       
And the list goes on with many other symptoms. To be sure that you are suffering from a celiac disease, you should exclude the possibility of suffering from Crohn’s or IBS or any other intestinal diseases. Then you should got tested before start eliminating gluten from your diet.  If you started to eliminate gluten, this will give you a false negative result, so you should consult a Dr. or Registered Dietitian (RD) before taking any major changes in your diet. Now blood tests are done to test specific antibodies, and if the tests are positive, intestinal biopsy is the next step.  

What if (CD) left untreated?

Malnutrition will occur because of the malabsorption of vitamins and minerals, it just passes to the large intestine and it may lead to other diseases like osteoporosis, pancreatic disease, and organ diseases like gallbladder and liver. Also it can cause stunted growth for children if left untreated. There are some studies started over  10 years ago, to link (CD) with unexplained infertility in women and men but until now, there have been no conclusive results.

Is the damage caused by (CD) for intestine permanent?

No!  Because the intestine generates its own cells every 3 days, yet can take years to heal completely. This depends on how bad was the damage in the beginning.

What is gluten sensitivity (GS) or intolerance?

According to The University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research  It’s a reaction to ingesting gluten in the intestine; symptoms can range from mild stomach pain and foggy brain to depression and joint pain. There is no specific test for (GS) so far, so you should first get tested for (CD) and wheat allergy, if you aren’t positive for neither of them, you should consult an (RD).

(GS) and brain function

This is a very controversial issue; many scientists now claimed that gluten sensitivity may lead to autism and schizophrenia, depression or mood swings but  there are no conclusive results.

Source of the photo The GOUT killer

For further reading:

Gluten Sensitivity and the Impact on the Brain

Celiac Disease, Gluten Sensitivity and the Gluten-Free Diet 

Q & A with Alessio Fasano, MD, The latest on gluten sensitivity and celiac disease

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