Yep. That’s what a lot of people are wondering these days! Gluten-free is a hot topic, that’s for sure. The answer isn’t short and sweet (I’ve written 7 books about this!), and there are a lot of muddy waters to tread through – so let’s get started….
There are lots of reasons people go gluten-free:
- Celiac Disease
- Gluten Sensitivity (AKA non-celiac gluten sensitivity)
- Gluten “Allergies”
- Autism, ADD/ADHD
- Autoimmune Disorders
- Personal Choice
The following briefly outlines these conditions, but for in-depth descriptions as well as informationon testing, please see My Books.
Celiac disease is a genetic intolerance to gluten. It’s the most common genetic disease of mankind, affecting about 1% of the population – yet most people who have it don’t know it and may never be diagnosed. It’s an autoimmune disease that can be triggered at any age (it used to be thought to be a pediatric disorder, but it’s not), and symptoms are all over the board. If you have celiac disease, a strict gluten-free diet should fully restore your health (and you’ll most likely see improvement immediately!).
Ah … here’s where the waters get a little muddy. Some people who think they have gluten sensitivity actually have celiac disease, but they’re not properly diagnosed. Others may not have celiac disease – YET – but may develop it down the road. In any case, if you’re sensitive to gluten, you probably know it because you feel better when you don’t eat it. A gluten-free diet should fully restore your health!
Technically, there’s no such thing. Gluten is comprised of wheat, rye, and barley – so you may have an allergy to one or more of those foods, but you don’t have an allergy to “gluten,” per se. Alllergies are an IgE-mediated response (for more information, see my books), whereas gluten sensitivity and celiac disease are IgA and IgG-mediated responses. Typical allergy testing will miss celiac disease and gluten sensitivity (unless you have an allergy to a component of gluten – wheat, rye, or barley).
Autism, ADD, ADHD, and behavioral issues
If you’re interested in the connection between autism (etc.) and gluten, I highly encourage you to read my books – especially “Living Gluten-Free for Dummies” and “Gluten-free Kids,” in which I explore the latest-greatest research and hypotheses. While there are no really good studies (double-blind, placebo-controlled) on this, anecdotal evidence is showing that some autistic kids respond well to a gluten-free/casein-free diet. I’ve personally talked with hundreds, if not thousands, of parents who swear their kids showed remarkable improvement. This goes for ADHD and other behavioral issues, as well. You might not want to hold your breath for these well-done, evidence-based scientific studies … it’s nearly impossible to do establish control groups for this type of study.
Some autoimmune disorders seem to show improvement in symptoms on a gluten-free diet. The question that pops into my mind is: could some of these people have celiac disease, and that’s why they show improvement? After all, celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder, and they tend to go hand-in-hand with one another. Symptoms for celiac disease are all over the board, so could it be that their pain (or whatever symptom) is exacerbated by celiac disease, and therefore shows improvement on a gluten-free diet? Again, there aren’t many great studies on this connection.
More than ever, people today are choosing to go gluten-free because of personal preference. Most claim to feel better – a lot better – when they do … so who’s to argue?!? Well, a word of caution here. If you’re choosing to go gluten-free because of personal choice, realize that you can’t be properly tested for celiac disease or gluten sensitivity when you’re gluten-free. It may be important to be tested – especially for celiac disease – because of the associated conditions, and because it’s a genetic condition and your biological relatives should be tested, too.
There’s been a lot of hype about whether or not the gluten-free diet is an effective weight-loss plan, and the answer is it is if you do it right – but it can actually pack on the pounds if you do it wrong! Eating natural foods – ones without packaging, and foods that are inherently gluten-free (meat, poultry, seafood, fruits, veggies, nuts, berries – you get the picture) is the easiest way to maintain your weight or lose it if you need to. But lots of people go gluten-free and turn to the many oh-so-yummy gluten-free products available today and wonder why, after gorging on gluten-free goodies, they aren’t losing weight.
If your body doesn’t do well with gluten – whether it’s celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or even wheat allergies – the symptoms can be all over the board. That’s one reason it’s so hard to diagnose! There are about 270 symptoms, but the most common include:
- Headaches (and migraines)
- Gastrointestinal distress (gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, reflux, “irritable bowel syndrome”)
- Depression, stress, anxiety, bipolar
- Joint/muscle pain
- Early onset osteoporosis
- Respiratory issues
- Other autoimmune diseases (type 1 diabetes, thyroid disease – Hashimoto’s, Lupus, and others)
- Hormonal imbalance
- “Fuzzy brain syndrome” – lack of attention
…and the list goes on and on. Some people to be “asymptomatic,” with no symptoms whatsoever – but I think if they took a look at the entire list of symptoms, they’d find something there.
Testing isn’t cut and dry. There are a lot of false negatives, and unless an entire panel of tests is done, they either look for celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, but not both. If you’re interested in testing, I encourage you to read my books, because there are so many complexities to consider, and you want to be knowledgeable when you go to your doctor.
Basically, the tests are looking for antibodies to the gluten molecule. Most people to a serological (blood) test, often followed by an intestinal biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. If you’re getting the blood test, ask for the entire panel, which includes:
- AGA IgA (or DGP IgA)
- AGA IgG (or DGP IgG)
- Total serum IgA
Again, the books go into great detail about what each of these tests shows you.