Sep 22, 2018

Should you go gluten-free

Celebrities are talking about going gluten-free, grocery stores are stocking more and more gluten-free items and, odds are, you have a friend or two who say they are losing their “wheat bellies” and feeling great on a gluten-free diet.

Can avoiding gluten really help you lose weight, gain energy and maybe clear up your heartburn or headaches?  Or is it simply another fad diet?  The latest research shows gluten can, in fact, result in many troublesome symptoms if you are sensitive to this protein (which is found in grains including wheat, barley, rye, spelt and oats).  Celiac disease (CD) is the most severe reaction to eating gluten.  An autoimmune disease diagnosed by blood tests and biopsies, CD damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents absorption of certain nutrients that are important for staying healthy.  “The View” co-host Elisabeth Hasselback brought CD to national attention a few years ago when she talked about her diagnosis and how a gluten-free lifestyle had solved her chronic  gastrointestinal problems.

While CD has been a recognized disorder for decades, a less serious syndrome related to gluten – gluten sensitivity (GS) – is now also believed to impact the health of perhaps millions of people.  People who are gluten sensitive can experience a range of symptoms including heart-burn, bloating, indigestion, skin rash, joint pain, muscle cramps, leg numbness, weight loss, “foggy mind” and fatigue when they eat gluten-containing food.

How can a natural protein cause health problems?

Exactly what causes the reaction to gluten known as GS remains elusive.     GS is neither mediated through lgE (histamine) nor through an autoimmune mechanism, although people with this problem do experience adverse reactions when eating gluten.  However, they do not develop damage to the small intestine like patients with CD.  So this means the only way for a GS diagnosis to currently be made is to exclude other diseases with a thorough physical and  to see how a person feels when gluten is eliminated from the diet. Many people have gone gluten-free because they have ADHD, multiple sclerosis and irritable bowel syndrome and they’ve hear anecdotal reports that these conditions could be caused by or made worse by eating gluten.  However, in these disorders there is no evidence of the effectiveness of a gluten-free diet.

When to try a gluten-free diet – Both CD and GS can share some symptoms including diarrhea, abdominal pain and anemia, however more people with GS have more symptoms that don’t involve the gastrointestinal track, such as behavioral changes, fatigue and muscle cramps.  If you have some of these unexplained problems, it is recommended that you try a gluten-free diet to see if it helps– but only after you’ve seen your physician to make sure there’s no other problem, including CD, that could be the cause.  Keep in mind there are no specific tests available at the present time to diagnose GS.  However, giving up gluten for a few weeks and then seeing if your symptoms return when you go back to eating it can help uncover a gluten sensitivity.  If you do have GS, the good news is that by eliminating gluten form your diet, you could find yourself soon free of some nagging health complaints.