Pants not fitting properly? Suffering from fatigue and headaches? Let me guess, you have tried every diet under the sun – low carb, low fat, high protein, high fibre yet you can’t seem to shed that stubborn belly bulge. Have you considered that the hidden culprit making you feel fat, frumpy and generally unwell could be gluten?
Gluten is a type of protein found in certain grains including rye, kamut, wheat and barley. Oats and oat products also normally contain gluten, usually as a result of cross contamination. Today, up to 15 percent of people, or one in seven, is considered gluten sensitive or intolerant. Many of us with food allergies or sensitivities don’t even realize how bad we feel until the problematic foods are removed from our diet. Then, within just days, getting out of bed becomes easier, energy increases, mood and concentration improve and joint pain, headaches or sinus congestion clears.
But what’s the big deal particularly with gluten anyway? Every time that we consume a food that we are allergic to, it causes a series of negative reactions in our body, particularly in the digestive tract and immune system. When those with celiac disease, a very severe gluten allergy, eat food or use products containing gluten, their immune system responds by attacking the villi (tiny, finger-like projections in the small intestine), which absorb the nutrients from food. After exposure to gluten, intestinal damage may develop within a few months or may be postponed for several years. In more mild forms of gluten sensitivity, gluten causes malabsorption, which is the inability to properly absorb nutrients from food. In more severe cases, weight loss, anemia, and vitamin deficiencies may occur as a result of this malabsorption. Luckily, removal of dietary gluten will permit the digestive system to heal, while symptoms of celiac disease, including digestive distress or irritability, can disappear within only a matter of days.
How do you know if you are gluten intolerant?
Because the exact cause is unknown, there is no way known to prevent the development of celiac disease. Awareness of risk factors, however, like knowledge of a family member with the disorder, may increase the chance of early diagnosis and treatment. A simple blood test called the anti-gliadin antibody test can tell you if you have celiac disease. But you must consume gluten for the weeks prior to the blood test to prevent a false negative result.
Another simple and quick way to determine if you have a gluten sensitivity is a 14-day elimination diet, which includes the removal of all of the most common food allergies (all grains that contain gluten, dairy, citrus, peanuts, sugar and soy). Though this list may sound daunting, you will not be hungry because grains that are gluten-free, including rice, wild rice, corn, buckwheat, millet, amaranth and quinoa are freely permitted.
After the 14-day removal period you should slowly reintroduce the foods one at a time. By doing so, any physical or mental symptoms related to the food can be isolated. For instance, you may try oranges, cheese, yogurt, rye, kamut and wheat while watching for symptoms that point to an allergy or intolerance. Common symptoms of gluten intolerance or wheat allergy may include: gas, bloating, constipation, fatigue immediately after eating the food, fatigue on waking the next day, or a gradual decline in energy, irritability, anxiety, headaches, water retention (can’t get your rings off) and dark circles under the eyes.
In my clinical practice I have seen patients eliminate their headaches, migraines, water retention, abdominal cramping or bloating, skin rashes, joint pain and more – just by discovering their problems with gluten.