The sale and popularity of gluten-free products has skyrocketed in recent years. Many people are adopting a gluten-free diet, and there are countless books and articles about the subject. What is gluten, and is it really bad for you?
Gluten is a protein found in certain grains, including wheat, barley, and rye. It is also found in many foods that you might not suspect, like some sauces, spices, broths, lunch meats, and even vitamin supplements. For people who have celiac disease, eating even a tiny amount of gluten can cause severe pain, diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue, weight loss, and damage to the small intestine.
Do I have celiac?
Diagnosing celiac disease cannot be done with symptoms alone. Tests for celiac usually include a blood test, followed by an intestinal biopsy that must be done via an endoscopy. The biopsy looks for damage to the villi, which are like tiny hairs that move food through the intestine and allow the body to absorb nutrients. If the test results show certain antibodies in the blood test, along with damaged villi in the biopsy, this would likely mean you have celiac disease. About 1 in 100 people are estimated to have this condition.
What to do about celiac
If your test results show that you have celiac disease, your gastroenterologist will talk with you about avoiding gluten completely. Even if your symptoms aren’t severe, you should strictly avoid gluten. Eating gluten will continue to damage your small intestine and inhibit the important absorption of vitamins and nutrients. This could cause you to become malnourished.
Your physician may refer you to a dietician, who can help you establish and follow a gluten-free diet. There are many healthy, nutritious foods available today that are gluten free. You will need to watch for cross contamination in foods at the store. Some foods, such as oatmeal, should be naturally gluten free, but can be cross contaminated with gluten while being processed. You will need to read food labels carefully to ensure the products you eat do not contain even tiny amounts of gluten.
Eating out can be challenging with celiac, but many more restaurants are recognizing the importance of gluten-free diets for people with celiac. You may wish to speak with the manager at the restaurant and ask if they have a separate grill or kitchen space for gluten-free items. Many restaurants cook all the food on one grill, for instance, so even if you order a gluten-free item, it could be contaminated with gluten from another food that touched the same surface. Fortunately, more and more restaurants are beginning to recognize this risk, and are very careful to keep gluten-free items separate.
A negative test result
If you don’t have celiac, but you still feel gluten is causing you discomfort, talk with your physician about your symptoms. There may be another ingredient in your food that is causing your symptoms, or another underlying health issue that needs to be addressed. Some people are sensitive to gluten even if they don’t suffer from celiac disease. Try cutting gluten out of your diet for a few weeks to see if your symptoms improve.
Gastroenterology at CarePoint Health
Our skilled gastroenterologists diagnose and treat a wide range of gastrointestinal conditions using state-of-the-art technology. For more information about our comprehensive gastroenterology services, please contact us.
Content on our website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911. Always consult your physician before making any changes to your medical treatment.