#5 – Gluten Sensitivity vs. Celiac Disease. What You Need to Know About Gluten
Welcome back Cool Healthy Lifers. During our last post we walked through my five-pound bagel experience and how oddly my body reacts to bagels. One reason for that could have to do with gluten. Gluten is quickly becoming a complicated topic in our lives and gluten-free diets have become all the rage. So what is gluten and why do we care?
Any where we look these days we are seeing and (maybe even) smelling “gluten free” food products. Most mainstream restaurants now offer gluten free alternatives or in some instances complete gluten free menus. Grocery stores are dedicating entire aisles to “gluten free” foods and there are some companies completely focused on “being gluten free.” But the question more and more people are asking is: “should I go gluten free?” While I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist, I wanted to share what we’ve learned about gluten and a simple process to test how your body “feels” when you remove gluten from your diet.
Gluten is a protein that acts as a glue to help hold food together. It’s found in many different types of grains, such as wheat, barley, and rye, and it generally “shows up” in bread, pasta, cereal, beer, and processed foods. Said differently, gluten is what gives bagels, cakes, and cookies, for example, their chewy, gooey goodness. But gluten is also found in some less obvious places, such as salad dressing, soy sauce, and certain medications and supplements. The Celiac Disease Foundation has an extensive list of products containing gluten and identifies some non-typical places where gluten is found.
The problem with gluten is twofold. First and foremost, some people have an outright allergic reaction to gluten. For these individuals the digestion of gluten creates a tremendous amount of inflammation in the body. To combat the inflammation, the body produces an immune response (treats it like an invading enemy) and begins to attack healthy cells. This autoimmune response is known as celiac disease. However, there is also a much larger, faster growing issue with our gooey friend gluten – our body’s ability (or lack thereof) to properly digest the protein. This is called gluten sensitivity, which is a term that refers to anyone who seems to have negative reactions somewhere in their body to the digestion of gluten. Let’s take a closer look at the two conditions below.
Celiac disease is a very specific autoimmune disease where someone’s immune system views gluten as an enemy invader and triggers an immune response causing his or her body to actually attack the small intestine. This can lead to tremendous damage and discomfort to one’s gastrointestinal system and can lead to more serious, longer-term healthy problems. Based on research from The Celiac Disease Foundation, celiac disease impacts 1 in 100 people worldwide and approximately 2.5 million Americans currently have celiac disease and don’t actually know it. Left untreated, celiac disease can precipitate long-term neurological conditions, GI tract conditions, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer.
Unlike celiac disease, gluten sensitivity is a less specific but very real condition that is far reaching across all aspects of our health. While individuals who have a sensitivity to gluten will not test positive for a “gluten allergy,” they do experience a series of symptoms (foggy mind, bloating, headaches, fatigue) that seem to go away once gluten is removed from their diet. It’s estimated by Alessio Fasano, who is a world-renown expert on gluten sensitivity and celiac disease, that gluten sensitivity impacts six to seven times as many people as celiac disease. This equates to about 20 million people in the United States!
What Should I Do About Gluten?
How to Test for Gluten Sensitivity
1. Plan to commit AT LEAST two weeks to being free of gluten.
Let me be very transparent: those most negatively affected by gluten may need to spend several months free from gluten to realize all the benefits. I recognize that six or more months without gluten is a long time. Since many of you may notice changes and feel the benefits within a few weeks, I’d suggest trialing a gluten-free diet for two to three weeks.
2. Before taking the plunge do some basic research on alternatives to gluten.
- Pasta = Rice, Quinoa
- Bread = Rudi’s brand, Food for Life brand, Whole Foods (most gluten free bread is found in the frozen food aisle)
- Flour = Rice, Oat, Buckwheat (there are a whole bunch of gluten free flours these days)
- Beer and Wine = Omission (I’ve tried them all and Omission is the only one that tastes normal! It’s actually made with normal barley and hops, but the gluten is removed prior to distribution). Wine = drink away, no gluten here!!
- Pizza = While most fast food chains haven’t introduced gluten free crust just yet, more and more places offer a decent gluten free crust alternative. We live in Charlotte and have found several local/regional places that have great gluten free crusts!
- Bakeries = Believe it or not there are more and more bakeries that specialize or offer gluten free goods. Great Harvest is one local place we frequent.
- Amazon has a large selection of gluten free products to build your shopping list
3. Check your calendar
4. Take the plunge!
5. Monitor your progress
6. Reintroduce gluten
This Video Caught My Attention
We’re starting something new in the blog. After each post we identify an interesting ‘healthy living’ video that we found particularly insightful. Consider this our version of a healthy living YouTube channel!
Gluten – What You Don’t Know Might Kill You
In this video Dr. Mark Hyman provides some additional perspective on some of the negative consequences of having gluten in our diets. Please let me know what you think!