Keeping yourself well and whole naturally helps to promote your strong immune system. This month we wanted to look more in depth at a condition that has a profound effect on your immune system and regularly goes undiagnosed. Gluten sensitivity is one of the leading causes of the breakdown of your immunity. If you’ve suffered from recurring headaches, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, on-set of osteoporosis or osteopenia, tooth enamel troubles, anemia, weight loss/gain, depression, fatigue, infertility (or early onset of menopause), and/or itchy, blistering rashes that don’t seem to clear up with treatment — there’s a good chance that you could be sensitive to gluten.
Each individual’s gluten sensitivity can differ drastically from person to person. There is a broad spectrum of gluten intolerance ranging from Celiac’s disease (an autoimmune disorder that begins in the digestive tract) all the way to a mild sensitivity to gluten. Celiac’s disease, if untreated, can lead to other autoimmune diseases, or co-morbidities, such as rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes. Gluten sensitivity highlights that there is some sort of immunity reaction to gluten in your diet which can be detected by testing for antibodies that appear in stool or saliva.
Gluten sensitivity occurs because your body is unable to digest gluten, specifically gliadin, which is a protein molecules found within carbohydrates like wheat, rye and barley. The properties that allow gluten (the Latin word for glue) to give texture and hold together bread or cake are the same properties that cause the body’s inability to absorb nutrients through your digestive tract. This indigestible gluten triggers the immune system to attack the finger-like surface projections called villi in the lining of your small intestine. Over the course of time, the damage to the small intestine worsens and prevents the absorption of essential nutrients such as iron or calcium which begins the array of health troubles such as anemia or osteoporosis. Eventually as the mucosal lining of the intestinal tract breaks down, the wall of the intestines become vulnerable and will perforate allowing food particles into the bloodstream. The body then produces antibodies in the blood to fight off the unwanted particles. This sets off an allergic reaction to almost everything you consume and exhausts your adrenal glands and ultimately your immune system.
Symptoms of gluten sensitivity often first show themselves in early childhood. Digestive disturbances such as chronic diarrhea or constipation are more prevalent in children than in adults who have gluten sensitivity. Children with gluten sensitivity likely have a lot of discomfort associated with ingesting gluten which can lead to irritability and excessive crying. As children get older and if the gluten sensitivity remains undiscovered, the gastro-intestinal troubles, mood changes, aches and pains may become less obvious — and may be attributed to just being a moody teenager as any mom will attest to! It can be difficult to pinpoint gluten as the cause of such troubles. According to a January 2000 study by the Journal of Pediatrics which screened 1200 children from 6 months to 20 years old, found that the prevalence of gluten sensitivity ranged from 1 in 57 to 1 in 33 children. Recently, a new blood test for gluten intolerance has bumped those numbers up to 35 – 50+ percent of our entire population!
As we age, and especially in women, gluten sensitivity can become more obvious manifesting itself as joint aches and pains, migraines, and skin conditions. If you suspect that you may have sensitivity to gluten, be proactive and switch to a gluten-free diet for 2-3 weeks which is enough to see some improvement in the symptoms. Unlike a typical food allergy challenge, it is not recommended that you reintroduce offending foods back into the diet if the symptoms have gone away. Remember that the symptoms can take a few hours to emerge and the discomfort can go on for 4 – 5 days.
Be aware of the hidden sources of gluten in processed foods such as distilled products (vinegar, grain alcohols), malts, starches, hydrolyzed or texturized vegetable proteins, MSG, and “natural flavoring”. Cutting out processed foods with unrecognizable ingredients in favor of whole, organic ones is one of the easiest ways to keep gluten sensitivity in check.
Gluten sensitivity is an emerging subject with vast informational resources available via the internet, your doctor, a qualified nutritionist, or other health professional. There are a multitude of tests available from blood testing to stool testing that look for the different antibodies produced in response to gluten consumption. Talking with your doctor or health professional is the best approach in determining if you are gluten sensitive.
We have included a link to a website that specializes in gluten sensitivity. It is a great resource for your doctor or health professional to refer to if they are not current with all the testing options available:
We hope this has helped you by shedding some light on the very important subject of gluten sensitivity.