Manfred, at 80 years old, has enviable health and an infectious zest for life. He has always been an active man who exercises daily, operates a landscaping business, and bakes delicious and crispy rye bread. He fell ill suddenly with ulcerative colitis, a type of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) that affects the large intestine. Manfred was hospitalized and given steroids to reduce intestinal inflammation. When his condition finally stabilized, Manfred still experienced terrible bouts of diarrhea. Having lived healthfully until this point, Manfred did not want to spend the rest of his life on medications which left him physically unsettled, but there seemed no other choice.
Through working with the appropriate holistic practitioner, Manfred realized his condition was a direct result of gluten intolerance. The ulcerative colitis was healed, and Manfred is now back to building, gardening, and baking, though now he bakes gluten-free!
What is gluten?
Gluten and gliadin are proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye that give flour elasticity and are popular food additives. Gluten and gliadin are heavily used additives in baked goods, cereals, malt, caramel flavorings, and pastas. Gluten and gliadin can be found in cookies, breads, pastas, anything that uses flour and even certain types of alcohol.
Warning Signs of Gluten Intolerance and Celiac Disease
This may surprise you, but 60 percent of people with gluten intolerance do not have digestive problems. This is why it is important to be aware of other potential symptoms and talk with your health care provider if you have any concerns.
- Diarrhea, flatulence, bloating, constipation, nausea, vomiting: These digestive symptoms, along with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) are among the most widely known reactions to gluten intolerance, though surprisingly not the most common.
- Mouth ulcers are clear signs of an exhausted immune system. When your body is combating an allergen it has limited reserves left to protect against viruses and infections.
- Gradual weight change. Undiagnosed gluten intolerance can affect the normal functioning of your thyroid gland. Thyroid function regulates the body’s ability to burn and utilize calories.
- Bone and joint pain, A reaction to gluten allergy can affect us even in our bones and joints.
- Frequent headaches or migraines. Digestive inflammation due to an allergen can result in headaches. The headaches may not disappear until the dietary issue is addressed.
- Chronic fatigue. Feeling under the weather is often a direct result to an unresolved gluten intolerance. Your body exhausts itself fighting off the allergen and little energy remains to carry out day-to-day activities.
- Bladder pain. Undetected gluten intolerances can often lead to bladder pain or disease
- Skin disorders. Surprisingly, gluten intolerances can manifest themselves even in our skin.
- Abnormal menses, infertility, miscarriage. Gluten intolerances can affect women’s reproductive systems and the ability to carry a child to term. If you have had many miscarriages in the past for unknown reasons, you may have an undetected gluten intolerance.
Gluten intolerance is also implicated in a number of diseases. Although research is ongoing, it appears in some cases that gluten intolerance may trigger the onset of such disorders or be associated in some way to the following:
- Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) - Most gastroenterologists believe there is no known cure for these conditions, yet many people diagnosed with IBS have complete recoveries after discovering they are gluten intolerant and remove gluten from their diets.
- Headaches and migraines
- Neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and epilepsy
- Autoimmune conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, and Type I Diabetes among others
- Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome
- Interstitial Cystitis
- Psoriasis and other skin disorders
- Mental disorders such as Schizophrenia, Depression, and A.D.D.
Implications of Gluten Intolerance: Important Things to Know
It is estimated that 1 in 7 people in the U.S. are gluten intolerant.
Discovering and treating your gluten intolerance early is extremely important. Besides the symptoms mentioned, those with gluten intolerances run the risk of the following complications, often due to the fact that gluten intolerances are usually left undiagnosed until most people are 50 years old.
- Gluten intolerance has a genetic connection. Most people do not inherit a trait for gluten intolerance. It is usually an acquired allergy. However, by becoming gluten intolerant, it is possible to change your genetic expression in a single generation and pass that tendency on to your children.
- On average it takes about 5 practitioners to diagnose gluten intolerances.
- Sixty percent of those with gluten intolerance do not exhibit symptoms of a compromised digestive system.
- If diagnosed after 10 years old, there is a 1 in 4 chance of developing an autoimmune disorder like Rheumatoid Arthritis, Hachimotos Thyroidistis, Parkinson’s Disease or lupus.
- Implicated in dental enamel defects, lower neo-natal weight in children, and shorter life spans
Celiac disease is the most severe form of gluten intolerance. Inflammation caused by the allergic reaction to gluten and gliadin permanently erodes the lining (villi) of the small intestine, severely impeding nutrient absorption.
Though Celiac disease often begins during childhood, it is usually diagnosed during adulthood. The longer the condition continues unchecked, the more susceptible the body is to other autoimmune disorders. Celiac disease can be diagnosed through a biopsy of the small intestine which shows the atrophy of the villi. (Sidebar) It can also be diagnosed by testing for an allergen-specific blood test.
Gluten Sensitivity - Intolerance
All gluten sensitivity and intolerance is a delayed allergic response to the proteins gluten and gliadin resulting in intestinal inflammation. This inflammation may lead to villi deterioration, and Celiac disease, over time. Gluten sensitivity is often misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all because most doctors just test for Celiac disease. This is why most people who are gluten intolerant do not test positive for Celiac disease.
Leaky Gut Syndrome and Effect on Food Allergies
Gluten intolerance creates inflammation. This inflammation leads to Leaky Gut Syndrome and creates the environment for secondary food allergies. Leaky Gut Syndrome refers to digestive disturbances and infections caused by severe inflammation of the intestine. This inflammation affects the integrity of the “gut” wall and allows for increased permeability in the intestinal walls. Partially digested food enters into the blood stream through small openings between the cells in the intestinal lining where it is met by a hostile immune system. The body produces an increasing amount of antibodies to fight the food we eat, and the food, bound with the antibody, continually passes from the intestine to the blood stream. Thus, a gluten intolerance may lead to the development of other food allergens. Only by removing the allergen can we can heal our “leaky” guts and begin the process of improved health. Leaky Gut Syndrome can be due to many different food allergies, but gluten intolerances are particularly damaging.
A Pathway to Healing
Identify. We cannot begin to heal until we know what ails us. There are many different paths to discovery.
- Food elimination: Eliminating specific foods is a cost-effective, yet slow and cumbersome method to identifying the true cause of the issue. To discover whether or not you have a gluten intolerance by removing it from your diet takes up to a month or two.
- Biopsy: A biopsy of the small intestine is effective in testing for Celiac disease and is one of the most common screening tools, but does not detect gluten intolerances nor other potential food allergens that may have developed due to Leaky Gut Syndrome. Since the affects and treatments of gluten intolerance and Celiac disease are ultimately the same, this test is extremely ineffective.
- Blood test: I recommend a comprehensive 96 food allergy panel to my patients. This blood test checks for allergic reactions to gluten and gliadin as well as wheat, rye and barley. It also screens for any other secondary food allergies that can result in Leaky Gut Syndrome. There are other blood tests available that can screen for Celiac disease as well as other aspects of a gluten sensitivity.
Eliminate. Once the allergy or intolerance is isolated, whether for gluten, secondary foods, or both, we can remove them from our diets and see amazing results.
Heal with Appropriate Supplements
- Vitamin D. A Vitamin D deficiency may compromise our small intestines mucosal barrier, leading to increased susceptibility to mucosal damage and increased risk of Leaky Gut Syndrome. Supplements restore low Vitamin D levels.
- Enteric coated essential fatty acids help to decrease inflammation. An enteric coating prevents the supplement from being digested until it reaches the desired anatomical destination, in this case the small intestine.
- Probiotics and Colustrum based supplements are essential in helping to reestablish a healthy immune systems.
- Plant-based anti-nflammatory supplements such as quercetin, curcumin, boswellia, ashwaganda, ginger and L-Glutamine. Ask a health professional about other types of plant-based supplements that may be beneficial to you.
If you are experiencing some of the symptoms discussed within this article and have been unable to either determine the cause of your suffering or achieve the level of health and wellness you desire, it may be time to investigate whether you are sensitive to gluten or other food allergens. The path to greater wellness can take some time, but once you have worked with a knowledgeable wellness provider who can help you determine what is ailing you, you’ll then be ready to work together toward a healthier future. Luckily, there are many things you can do to improve the quality of your health, and the sooner you are able to determine the true cause of your discomfort the more empowered you will be to embrace a more vibrant and healthy body and reduce the likelihood of additional complications.
An image highlighting a healthy digestive tract on the left, and a digestive tract that has been worn down due to gluten consumption in someone who suffers from Celiac disease. The villi, which are the seaweed-like structures in the left figure, are responsible for capturing and transmitting nutrients to the rest of the body. Since the entire trunk-like body of the villi is utilized in this process, when they are worn down they are much less functional. Celiac disease sufferers are defined as those who have unhealthy, deteriorated villi.