Celiac Disease and Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) are on the rise in the U.S. It’s now thought that gluten-related disorders affect nearly 10% of the population.1 We don’t know all the reasons for this reported increase in diagnosed cases, but we do know that a protein found in grains called gluten is most certainly a big part of the problem.
So if you have an issue with gluten… it’s time for you and your baguette and sour dough bread sticks to part ways forever.
For some being told they have a gluten-related disease that requires being on a gluten-free diet is literally a death sentence. Truly (and I speak from experience!) it is not the end of the world. I know many people (including myself) that eat like kings/queens while happily avoiding this pesky little food protein.
But I will be perfectly honest and tell you that if you have an issue with gluten, your relationship with food will never be the same.
All Gluten Problems Are Not Alike
Did you know that according to the prestigious Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers believe that NCGS (non-celiac gluten sensitivity) is THE MOST common syndrome of gluten intolerance.2
First, let’s put in context some of the popular terminology that is batted around when discussing gluten disorders. Believe me if you get confused by all the jargon (you’re not alone!), even the professional medical community uses different terms such as: wheat/gluten allergy, gluten sensitivity, gluten intolerance, celiac disease, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Here is how we simplify the terms and definitions:
Diagnosing Gluten-Related Disorders
On average, people with sensitivity to gluten or Celiac Disease don’t realize they have a problem until much later in life, frequently around age 40-60 years. On top of that, delayed diagnosis is quite common because gluten-related disorders can be complex and usually present with a wide variety of symptoms that are challenging for the typical primary care doctor or specialist. So given this, there is often systemic inflammatory issues, literally a fire of inflammation, that has been going on for years in the gut and possibly other body systems/tissues.
The long-term affects of gluten on the body for those with Celiac Disease or NCGS can lead to a wide-variety of health challenges including: gastrointestinal damage, autoimmune disease, brain/neuroendocrine dysfunction, liver damage, hormone disruption, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and more.
You may not have all the “classic” symptoms of Celiac Disease e.g., diarrhea, weight loss, abdominal pain and bloating, anemia, or know enough of your family history to be screened for any predisposing genetic factors, but that doesn’t mean you can rule out the possibility. For many, if they don’t react to a food with a typical allergy-like symptom, they don’t connect the dots between what they are eating and other chronic health conditions and symptoms.
Here is a simple rule-of-thumb diagnostic model for both Celiac Disease and NCGS. See if you respond “yes” to at least 2 of the 5:
Gluten Isn’t the Only Bad Guy
There is compelling evidence that other factors than simply eating gluten play an important role in the expression of gluten-related disorders. Time and time again, we see that the following triggers also play a role with gluten in the development of NCGS and/or Celiac Disease:
- Food sensitivities (primarily gluten but also other problematic proteins that “mimic” gluten)
- Genetics (can be a weak link in a person’s overall health)
- Gut health (leaky gut, imbalances in microbiota, infections like Candida, yeast and bacteria overgrowth)
- Cesarean mode of delivery
- Lifestyle (stress, traumas, thoughts, emotions, sleep, exercise)
- Environment (toxins, pollutants, pesticides, medications, etc.)
Why Gluten and Why Now?
I often get asked: why is gluten now such a problem for so many people? Great question and I have some thoughts on this to share:
- The 50/50 Rule – there is a 50% increase in gluten content in food from 50 years ago
- Modern Wheat Varieties – are wildly different than more traditional varieties. In short, modern wheat is simply not the same plant it used to be
- More Processed Food – many wheat and grain products contain dough conditioners (bread products), preservatives, flour mixtures (including soy flour), processing by-products like acrylamide and hydrogenated oils
- Reduced Oral Tolerance – our immune system may not be as efficient in determining what is a good food and what is a bad food
- Overuse of Pesticides – seeds and grain are sprayed and stored in bins that contain harmful pesticides
- More GMO Food – processed food products and baked goods include high amounts of soy. Soy is the largest GMO crop in the U.S., about 94%, and there has not been enough research done on the long-term effects of GMOs in the diet. As of 2015, no GM wheat is grown commercially, although many field tests are being conducted
- Existing Gut Issues & Compromised Microbiome – many of us living in the U.S. or industrialized countries may have a variety of systemic gut issues and gluten is just another weak link in the chain. Conditions like dysbiosis (damaged gut flora) from overuse of antibiotics, low-nutrient diets and loss of diversity of our microbiota, are prime examples.
What You Can Do If You Have a Gluten-Related Condition
Although there is no “magic bullet” or cure for gluten-related disorders, you can still take some preventative steps to relieve current discomfort you are experiencing.
Here’s are some helpful steps to follow when working with gluten-related disorders:
- Do a gluten elimination diet for 30 days – always start with the simplest area first and that is diet. If you are not sure if have an issue with gluten, the single best way to determine this is to remove it from your diet and see how your body feels without it. After 30 days, add some gluten back into your diet and compare how you feel. You can keep a food journal to help keep track of how your body feels when you eat, what your mood is like and your energy level.
- Remove gluten from your diet – when gluten is an issue, you need to be vigilant and remove all gluten. This includes gluten hidden in least-suspecting processed food products and other foods that are cross reactive with gluten, non-wheat grains, like dairy, yeast, coffee, quinoa, hemp and even chocolate.
- Test for Celiac Disease or NCGS – Another way to determine if you are gluten sensitive is to ask your doctor to order tests that especially look for: anti-gliadin, transglutaminase (2, 3, 6), deamidated gliadins and wheat agglutinin IgA/IgG antibodies. If you suspect Celiac Disease, you should get the genetic testing done and consider the small intestine biopsy, which is still considered by many to be the gold standard for a confirmed diagnosis.
- Supplement your diet with key vitamins and minerals – this will help to nourish the body if you’ve had malabsorption in the small intestine, in addition to slowly beginning the repair process. A recent study noted that, “87.5% of patients diagnosed had at least 1 vitamin or mineral deficiency”.3 Add some supplementation to your diet at least in the beginning: calcium, magnesium, Vitamin D & A, zinc, iron, folate and B12 (a good B complex will do). Don’t forget the probiotics to help replenish good bacteria in the gut and licorice root to aid the intestinal lining. Colostrum from a clean bovine source is also a good immune support and gut healing agent.
- Evaluate symptoms and progress after 30-90 days of a dietary restriction program – ask yourself how you feel being on a gluten-free diet and notice if symptoms have improved or not. Trust in your body intelligence; it usually let’s you know what is working or not.
- Work with a functional health practitioner with experience in gluten diseases and gut health – that can educate and mentor you in managing a healthy diet and lifestyle and assist with discovering any further hidden conditions.
Just to Recap Gluten-Related Diseases
- It’s now thought that gluten-related disorders affect nearly 10% of the population.
- Having Celiac Disease or NCGS is much different than having a simple wheat allergy.
- Confirm your hunches and do specific antibody tests to determine whether your immune system is reacting to gluten and damaging tissues in the body.
- If you test positive for Celiac Disease or NCGS you need to remove gluten out of your diet completely or risk constant irritation to your gut and immune system.
- After you go on a gluten-free diet, you may feel better in a few days or weeks or it may take several months or years… it all depends on your symptoms or health condition.
If you are suffering from gut issues, food allergies or sensitivities, think gluten may be a problem or have a family history of Celiac or autoimmune disease, don’t wait until symptoms take hold in your body. Your gut holds the keys to a healthy immune system. Heal your gut now and prevent other serious symptoms… try out my Gut Health Secrets 90-Day Boot Camp
1 Sapone A, Bai JC, Ciacci C, et al. Spectrum of gluten-related disorders: consensus on new nomenclature and classification. BMC Med. 2012;10:13.
2 Leonard, M. M., & Vasagar, B. (January 01, 2014). US perspective on gluten-related diseases. Clinical and Experimental Gastroenterology, 7, 25-37.
3 Wierdsma, N., van, B. S. M., Berkenpas, M., Mulder, C., & van, B. A. (October 30, 2013). Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies Are Highly Prevalent in Newly Diagnosed Celiac Disease Patients. Nutrients, 5, 10, 3975-3992.
Disclaimer: the views and nutritional advice expressed in this publication are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical advice. No information provided should be interpreted as a diagnosis of any disease, nor an attempt to treat or prevent or cure any disease or condition. All information in this publication is for educational purposes only and Aine-Marie and Advesta Health encourages its clients and members to continue to work in a partnership with qualified medical professional. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider or seek medical assistance. Reading, sharing, or downloading this publication does not establish a doctor patient relationship with Aine-Marie or any Advesta Health employee or consultant including any of our licensed health practitioners, coaches, dieticians or nutritionists.