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What Is Gluten and Why Can't I Have It?

pasta being served on a plateHave you ever heard the term “gluten-free” and wondered just what the heck that means? Items labeled as gluten-free refer to anything, ranging from food to lip balm, that doesn’t contain gluten. It is paramount that some people stick to a gluten-free diet. So, what is gluten, and why can’t some people have it? Keep reading to find out.

What Is Gluten?

Gluten is a protein in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. Of these grains, wheat is the most common. There are two main proteins in gluten, glutenin and gliadin. Gliadin happens to be responsible for most of the adverse health effects some people experience when they consume gluten. Gluten-containing foods include breads, pastas, cereals, malt, beer, and much more.

Gluten is naturally occurring, but some food manufacturers extract it and add it to their product(s) to add protein, texture, and flavor. It also acts as a binding agent to hold bread and baked goods together.

How Does Gluten Interact with The Human Body?

The human body produces digestive enzymes to help us digest our food. Protease is the enzyme that helps our body digest proteins. However, it can’t completely break down gluten. Eventually, the undigested gluten makes it to the small intestine. In most people, gut microbes will feed on gluten to help them grow and reproduce. However, it can trigger an adverse inflammatory or autoimmune response in some people.

What Is Celiac Disease?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder. In individuals with this condition, their body identifies gluten as a foreign invader. Thus, their body produces white blood cells that attack the gluten as if it were a pathogen. Unfortunately, the attack also damages the lining of the gut. Undiagnosed celiac disease can cause many different symptoms. The most common symptoms include:

  • Digestive discomfort
  • Tissue damage to the small intestine
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Skin rashes
  • Depression
  • Weight loss
  • Malnutrition

However, some individuals don’t know they have the disorder. In one study, 80% of people who had celiac disease didn’t know they had it due to lack of symptoms. The only treatment for celiac disease is to follow a strict gluten-free diet.

Do You Have Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity?

While celiac disease patients only make up about 1% of the population, many more people who do not test positive for the disorder still experience adverse side effects when consuming gluten. Researchers don’t know the exact number of people who suffer from this condition, but it’s estimated to be between 0.5 to 13% of the population. There is no clear definition for nonceliac gluten sensitivity. However, a doctor may still make the diagnosis if their patient reacts negatively to gluten, but they’ve ruled out celiac and allergies.

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity can also be used as a broad term to cover a range of gastrointestinal ailments that seem to be made worse by gluten consumption. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) happens to fall under this distinction.

Can A Gluten-Free Diet Treat IBS?

Research shows that a gluten-free diet can help manage IBS symptoms. IBS is the most common gastrointestinal disorder and dramatically affects the quality of life in those who have it. It’s estimated that IBS prevalence in developed countries is about 20%. Overall, a gluten-free diet has shown that it can help manage IBS symptoms, and, in contrast, a gluten-containing diet can worsen IBS symptoms.

Can I Eat Gluten?

You should stay away from gluten if you have celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, a wheat allergy, or gluten ataxia (a rare neurological autoimmune disorder that causes your body to attack parts of your brain in response to gluten). However, you should always discuss new treatment options with a trusted healthcare professional as well as a dietitian. Going gluten-free can do wonders for those who need to eat a gluten-free diet. However, gluten-containing grains still contain vital nutrients like vitamin B12 and protein. Going gluten-free means you must be more aware of what you’re eating and how you get all your nutrients from your food.

Go Gluten-Free with The Wellness Connection!

At The Wellness Connection we do our best to get to the root cause of your health issues. If you or someone you know feels a gluten-free diet may be the answer to your problems, contact us to schedule an appointment with one of our physicians and clinical nutritionists today! We can help you feel your best in no time.

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