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Gluten for Punishment: Celiac Disease and a Gluten-Free Diet

With the expansion of waist sizes around the world, and the explosion of work hours people need to fill, many individuals are looking for ways to lose weight without having to carve more time out of their busy day. This has led to a number of fads like Atkins, South Beach, 7 day, 3 day, Cabbage Soup, Hollywood, and the Grapefruit diet. A new craze is taking over, but this one is not the fad that the others mentioned are. While celebrities are touting the health benefits of a gluten-free diet, others must switch to it because their bodies cannot processes the gluten that is contained in wheat, barley, and rye. These people may have Celiac disease, or may suffer from non-Celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). You may be asking yourself what the difference is, and how you can find out if you have either.

Allied Health

What is Celiac disease?

In the simplest terms, Celiac disease is evidenced by the body's negative reaction to ingesting products that have gluten in them. Food and beverages made from wheat, barley, and rye can contain gluten, including:

  • Pasta
  • Cookies
  • Cereal
  • Beer
  • Gravy
  • Salad dressing
  • Muffins
  • Bread

People who suffer from Celiac disease have a difficult time digesting these foods, leading to adverse bodily reactions such as:

  • Itchy skin rash
  • Damage to tooth enamel
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Anemia
  • Trouble with balance
  • Heartburn

Continued ingestion of food containing gluten can lead to inflammation that can damage the lining of the small intestine, which might cause malabsorption of other necessary nutrients. This malabsorption can cause growth problems in children, and without adequate nutrients problems can occur in the brain, liver, bones, and other important parts of the human body.

According to the Mayo Clinic, Celiac disease affects about .7 percent of the U.S. population, but it has grown in the last decade. It can be hereditary, so if someone in your family has been diagnosed with the disease you might want speak to a doctor. A blood test is needed to check for Celiac, and should be administered before you change your diet, as cutting out gluten may result in a negative test even if you have the disease.

There currently is no cure for Celiac disease.

Do you have non-Celiac gluten sensitivity?

While it is important to see a doctor and have them test you for the disease when these symptoms appear, Celiac is not the only thing that can produce these irritations in the body. Some people may suffer from NCGS. Individuals who suffer from this may exhibit many of the same symptoms as people who have Celiac disease, but there is no intestinal damage. There currently is no test that can diagnose NCGS, except through an exclusionary process. People who have tested negative for Celiac disease, but still have symptoms when they eat gluten products may want to move to a gluten-free diet and see if they feel any better. If they do, it might be because they suffer from NCGS.

Living a gluten-free life

Gluten-free products are growing in popularity, but many may not understand what gluten is and why people are trying so hard to avoid it. According to Tamara Duker Freuman, a registered dietician working in New York City, gluten is a "family of storage proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye." Getting an even deeper definition, a storage protein is any reserves of amino acids that plant matter build up in order to help with growth during germination. Plants hold these proteins in their cells, and are in turn consumed by humans when we eat them during meals.

As revealed above, many must move to a gluten-free diet because of health concerns, but some people have chosen a gluten-free diet because they have heard about potential health benefits. Getting tested by a doctor is important before any dietary change is made. Once that is done, individuals may want to speak to a nutritionist or a dietitian about how best to switch their diet safely.

Sources:

Protein Storage Bodies and Vacuoles, The Plant Cell, http://www.plantcell.org/content/11/4/601.full

Gluten and Food Labeling: FDA's Regulation of "Gluten-Free" Claims, August, 2013, http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm367654.htm

Fad Diets, EveryDiet, September, 2013, http://www.everydiet.org/fad-diets

What Foods Have Gluten, American Diabetes Association, 2013, http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/planning-meals/gluten-free-diets/what-foods-have-gluten.html

Celiac disease, Mayo Clinic, May 22, 2013, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/celiac-disease/DS00319

"Could you have Celiac Disease", Casey Gueren, Women's Health Mag, April 12, 2013, http://blog.womenshealthmag.com/scoop/celiac-disease/?cm_mmc=MSN-_-6%20Need-to-Know%20Facts%20about%20Gluten-_-Article-_-Could%20You%20Have%20Celiac%20Disease%20RL

"What is Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity," Tamara Duker Freuman, U.S News and World Report, November 5, 2013, http://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/2013/11/05/what-is-non-celiac-gluten-sensitivity

"Diagnosis of Non-Celiac Sensitivity," National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, 2011, http://www.celiaccentral.org/non-celiac-gluten-sensitivity/testing-and-diagnosis/