Gluten-free? What does that mean?

Gluten-free living. What is that?

First we need to understand gluten and it’s intolerance. Gluten is a protein found in the endosperm of grain. Gluten containing foods includes wheat, spelt, tricale, kamut, rye, barley, oats (although, not actually a gluten protein, but almost always cut on the same equipment cutting wheat so is taboo for people with gluten intolerance.) The stored proteins of maize and rice are sometimes called gluten, but their proteins differ from wheat gluten by lacking gliadin.

Although wheat supplies much of the world’s dietary protein and food supply, as much as 0.5% to 1% of the population of the United States has Celiac disease, a condition which results from an adverse immune system response to gluten. The manifestations of Celiac disease range from no symptoms to malabsorption of nutrients with involvement of multiple organ systems. The only effective treatment is a lifelong gluten-free diet.

Gluten can affect your gut, your skin, and your brain.  Celiac disease, a genetic disorder, along with the myriad symptoms that can be experienced throughout your gastro-intestinal tract in response to gluten.  It also includes many other symptoms that do not stem from your gut.  These include brain and behavior disorders, irritability and tiredness, skin problems, muscular aches and pains and joint problems.

1 in 1331 Americans are effected by Celiac disease. Symptoms of celiac disease can range from the classic features, such as diarrhea, weight loss, and malnutrition, to latent symptoms such as isolated nutrient deficiencies but no gastrointestinal symptoms.

Because of the broad range of symptoms celiac disease presents, it can be difficult to diagnose. The symptoms can range from mild weakness, bone pain, and aphthous stomatitis to chronic diarrhea, abdominal bloating, and progressive weight loss. If a person with the disorder continues to eat gluten, studies have shown that he or she will increase their chances of gastrointestinal cancer by a factor of 40 to 100 times that of the normal population. Further, gastrointestinal carcinoma or lymphoma develops in up to 15 percent of patients with untreated or refractory Celiac disease. It is therefore imperative that the disease is quickly and properly diagnosed so it can be treated as soon as possible.

The only acceptable treatment for celiac disease is strict adherence to a 100% gluten-free diet for life. An adherence to a gluten-free diet can prevent almost all complications caused by the disease. This is a difficult task as there are many hidden sources of gluten found in the ingredients of many processed foods.

It is not uncommon for people with Celiac disease to have trouble digesting dairy as well as gluten. Often times when someone who has a gluten intolerance or Celiac disease their digestive system can react to other proteins as if there is an intolerance or allergy present. This is because after ingesting gluten a person with Celiac disease or gluten intolerance the gut is damaged and will no longer be able to properly break down other proteins that normally would not be a problem.

People with Celiac disease or gluten intolerance realize they can not live in a gluten-free bubble. It sometimes seems that everyone around them is happily enjoying breads, pastas and cakes made with wheat and other gluten containing items while they are omitted from the party.

There are lists of gluten containing ingredients here. If you are one of those who also avoids dairy there are many hidden places and names for cow’s milk protein. Here is a list of dairy containing ingredients.

There IS a difference between having an allergy and having an intolerance to gluten containing foods. You can read more about it at celiac.com here.

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