I’m sure that most of you have heard about gluten, or know someone who is gluten intolerant. But, what does ‘intolerant’ actually mean? Let’s start with the basics.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in grains and cereals such as wheat, barley, triticale, rye, etc. It provides elasticity to dough, allowing it to rise and take on its characteristic chewy, soft texture. It is also added as a thickener to many prepared foods such as imitation meats, sauces and gravies. Once you start looking for gluten – it’s everywhere!
Types gluten intolerance
1. Celiac Disease
- Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition, not an allergy or intolerance. The presence of gluten triggers the production of antibodies resulting in damage to the mucosa of the small intestine. This can result in loose stool (but not always), weight loss, fatigue and various nutrient deficiencies such as B12 and iron defeciency. Screening for celiac disease can be done through bloodwork, but can only be diagnosed with a biopsy of the small intestine.
- A new in-office/home test is now available, allowing for more convenient screening. The Biocard test can be purchased online, or at our office. During the month of May we will be offering the Biocard test at a reduced rate – $45.
- Gluten avoidance is mandatory for those with celiac disease, otherwise damage will continue to occur. Individuals with celiac disease must avoid all gluten-containing grains such as wheat, barley, rye, spelt and kamut.
2. Wheat allergy
- Wheat allergy is an IgE bound histamine reaction of the immune system.
- Unlike celiac disease, the reaction is usually only to wheat, so other grains (such as rye and barley) may be ok. Spelt and Kamut should also be avoided though as they are wheat relatives.
- Also unlike celiac diease, allergies are sometimes outgrown, so an allergic child may not become an allergic adult.
3. Wheat/Gluten Intolerance
- Symptoms of a wheat and/or gluten intolerance can vary quite a bit. Some people may experience digestive symptoms such as diarrhea, gas or constipation, but others may experience headaches, fatigue, anxiety or depression.
- Unlike celiac and wheat allergy, there is no reliable testing available to detect intolerance. The gold standard “test” is an elimination diet. By eliminating all wheat and/or gluten for a minimum of 3 weeks, intolerance can be ruled in or out based on the return of symptoms with a subsequent challenge. Often times, other foods are eliminated as well and the patient is put on a strict hypoallergenic diet. While not difficult per se, this diet does require a bit of planning and guidance, which an ND is qualified to provide.
- Canadian Celiac Association
- About.Com – Info page on Celiac Disease/Wheat allergy