Over the years, awareness about celiac disease and gluten sensitivity has increased beyond our wildest dreams. More and more people are discovering how gluten is impacting their health, and gluten-free options abound.
Still, diagnosing gluten issues can be tricky, and there’s much to learn about these conditions. If you are celiac or gluten-sensitive, educating yourself is of vital importance. We ourselves are always learning more and more, and we’ll continue to share our discoveries with you through our blog and newsletter.
What is celiac disease?
In a nutshell, celiac disease is an immune reaction to the protein called gluten, commonly found in grains such as wheat, rye, barley and oats (the problem with oats is mostly due to cross-contamination in processing facilities). While celiac disease is initially an autoimmune disorder, it is also a disease of malabsorption – which means essential nutrients are not absorbed by the body through the lining of the digestive tract. One of the most devastating symptoms of long-term undiagnosed celiac disease is malnutrition, which can lead to many health complications.
What is gluten sensitivity (or gluten intolerance)?
Gluten sensitivity, or gluten intolerance, can have a slower onset than celiac disease and may be hard to diagnose due to the broad range of symptoms and causes. Many of the symptoms are the same as celiac symptoms. Food intolerances, when undiagnosed for long periods of time, have been found to contribute to diabetes, bowel cancer, anemia, and osteoporosis.
So what are the specific symptoms?
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Nutritional deficiencies due to malabsorption—e.g., low iron levels
- Gastrointestinal problems (bloating, pain, gas, constipation, diarrhea)
- Fat in the stools (due to poor digestion)
- Aching joints
- Eczema /rashes
- Irritability and behavioral changes
- Infertility, irregular menstrual cycle and miscarriage
- Cramps, tingling and numbness
- Slow infant and child growth
- Decline in dental health
Stress and Gluten Issues
Emotional trauma and stress play a large role in the worsening of symptoms.
How do I get diagnosed?
Until recently it was challenging to diagnose celiac disease because the symptoms are varied and similar to other diseases. For instance, Crohn’s disease, chronic fatigue, iron deficiency, irritable bowel syndrome, and intestinal infections can all have similar symptoms. In fact, it has been stated that there may be a crossover between gluten intolerance and some of these illnesses; an individual may have a combination of issues worsened by unsuitable food choices.
Now doctors test for raised levels of certain autoimmune antibodies in the patient’s blood. These antibodies are produced when the body senses a dangerous intruder allergen, like gluten. If the results indicate an allergy to gluten, the doctor may perform a small-intestine biopsy. This will reveal the damage to the villi in the small intestine. It is important to eat an ordinary diet, including gluten, before being tested.
If the blood test comes back negative (indicating that you are not celiac), you may get an allergy test to determine if there is medical evidence of an allergy to gluten. Many people opt for an ALCAT test. There are a number of other available allergy tests, and you can request a specific test on gluten alone through a medical doctor. Some tests are available online. Please see My Shop or References for a test you feel comfortable with that fits your needs.
Many people get tested multiple times because of false negatives. Remember, it’s your body. Do what you feel is right, and do your homework! Tina was able to finally resolve her health issues through her own careful research.