Is gluten bad for you? A huge portion of the world’s diet contains the protein gluten. For many, when this protein is eaten they experience huge side effects and have to search far and wide to find gluten free alternatives.
People with gluten sensitivity, celiac disease, and wheat allergies are generally put into a similar group with each other even though their restrictions are different, and each problem comes with a different set of symptoms.
The Need for Gluten Free: Gluten Sensitivity, Celiac Disease, and Wheat Allergies
A review in The New England Journal of Medicine found that gluten was connected to 55 diseases.[i] Osteoporosis, anemia, or vitamin deficiencies might be clues that you have a gluten intolerance.[ii]
Another study in the Journal of Insurance Medicine found that “celiac disease is grossly under-diagnosed in the United States.”[iii] Therefore, if you are feeling the symptoms of a gluten intolerance, there’s a good chance that gluten is bad for you (you just haven’t been diagnosed). However, determining if you have celiac disease, a gluten sensitivity, or a wheat allergy is important.
If you have celiac disease, there must be absolutely not gluten in your diet, since Celiac is an autoimmune disorder and reacts aggressively, producing antibodies which attack your body.
Foods like wheat, barley, and rye contain gluten. When you eat these ingredients, your body overreacts to the protein damaging the wall of the small intestine. This makes it difficult for the intestine to absorb nutrients, leading to vitamin deficiencies and malnutrition.[iv]
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of Bone density
- Mouth ulcers
- Weight loss
- Chronic diarrhea
Celiac disease is an extensive gluten intolerance. It greatly limits the grains you can have and those with the disease experience the most harmful side effects.
You’ll know if gluten is bad for you if you have a sensitivity to it, though it’s harder to diagnose because there is no standard medical test.
This kind of sensitivity doesn’t damage the intestine but gluten can cause discomfort and similar side effects to celiac disease.[vii] A gluten sensitivity is a general attack on your body and less aggressive than the one you experience with celiac disease since no allergic or autoimmune reactions are involved.[viii]
Some of the symptoms of a gluten sensitivity include: [ix] [x]
- Both gastrointestinal symptoms and non-gastrointestinal symptoms
- Iron deficiency
- Chronic fatigue
- Early menopause
While some of the symptoms of gluten sensitivity are similar to celiac disease, the key difference is that the small intestine isn’t damaged when you eat gluten if you are only gluten sensitive.
Wheat allergies are different from a gluten intolerance like celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity.Wheat allergies don’t prevent you from eating other grains like barley and rye which have gluten in them.
A wheat allergy usually means that you are overreacting to a food protein specifically in wheat (not gluten). These reactions include:[xi]
And more severe symptoms like:
- Trouble breathing
- Loss of consciousness
- Or death
Having a wheat allergy is as dangerous as celiac disease but you aren’t completely limited from gluten, just wheat.
How Do I know if I Have a Gluten Intolerance?
To know if you have a problem with gluten you can take this gluten test.
Use the elimination diet for 4-6 weeks. This means cutting foods people are most sensitive to such as eggs, dairy, sugar, and gluten! Gluten-containing foods include:
- Flour tortillas
- Malt products
Cutting out these products for a moderate amount of time will decrease the symptoms and allow you to slowly re-introduce foods to see what you react to.
For example, you could reintroduce gluten into your diet first and if you react within a couple of days, you’ve figured out you’re sensitive to gluten; if you don’t’ react, introduce something else into your diet and repeat the process.
For the most accurate, but least harmful results, consume about 2 servings of a gluten product, then wait to let the symptoms to show but not to cause significant harm. It’s best to consult your healthcare provider if you’re concerned you have a food allergy or sensitivity.
Understanding what your body can handle is vital to staying healthy and happy. The elimination diet can help determine a gluten sensitivity while your doctor should determine if you have a wheat allergy or Celiac Disease because these can have huge effects on your well-being. Understanding the different reactions we have to wheat and gluten can help you make better decisions about what you consume on a daily basis.
This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and is for information only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition and/or current medication. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.
[i] Farrell RJ, Kelly CP. Celiac sprue. N Engl J Med. 2002 Jan 17;346(3):180-8. Review.
[ii] Sedghizadeh P, Shuler C, Allen C, Beck F, Kalmar J. Celiac disease and recurrent aphthous stomatitis: A report and review of the literature. Science Direct. 2002. Available at: http://www.sciencedirect.com.ezproxy.lib.ryerson.ca/science/article/pii/S1079210402002779. Accessed March 28, 2017.
[iii] Green P, Neugut A, Naiyer A, Edwards Z, Gabinelle S, Chinburapa V. Economic Benefits Of Increased Diagnosis Of Celiac Disease In A National Managed Care Population In The United States. 40th ed. New York: Columbia University; 2008:218-228.
[iv] Celiac Disease: What Is It and How Is It Treated?. WebMD. 2017. Available at: http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/celiac-disease/celiac-disease#1. Accessed March 28, 2017.
[v] Celiac Disease: What Is It and How Is It Treated?. WebMD. 2017. Available at: http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/celiac-disease/celiac-disease#1. Accessed March 28, 2017.
[vi] Celiac Disease Symptoms – Celiac Disease Foundation. Celiac Disease Foundation. Available at: https://celiac.org/celiac-disease/understanding-celiac-disease-2/celiacdiseasesymptoms/. Accessed March 28, 2017.
[vii] Kam, Katherine. Celiac Disease: What Is It and How Is It Treated?. WebMD. 2017. Available at: http://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/celiac-disease/celiac-disease#1. Accessed March 28, 2017.
[viii] Sapone A, Lammers K, Casolaro V et al. Divergence of gut permeability and mucosal immune gene expression in two gluten-associated conditions: celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. BMC Medicine. 2011;9(1). doi:10.1186/1741-7015-9-23.
[ix] Mansueto P, Seidita A, D’Alcamo A, Carroccio A. Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: Literature Review. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2014;33(1):39-54. doi:10.1080/07315724.2014.869996.
[x] Celiac Disease Symptoms – Celiac Disease Foundation. Celiac Disease Foundation. Available at: https://celiac.org/celiac-disease/understanding-celiac-disease-2/celiacdiseasesymptoms/. Accessed March 28, 2017.
[xi] Wheat – Food Allergy Research & Education. Foodallergyorg. Available at: https://www.foodallergy.org/allergens/wheat-allergy. Accessed March 28, 2017.
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