Over the last 10 or 15 years, the word “gluten” has found its way into the vocabulary of our society. Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, rye, and barley. Through extensive media coverage, it is now common knowledge that some people suffer from celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation in the digestive tracts of people who eat gluten. These people must completely cut gluten out of their diet, or else face permanent intestinal damage.
Celiac disease only affects about 1% of the population, and it’s estimated that people with a wheat allergy account for another 1%. What some people don’t know is that even if you don’t suffer from these two very specific diseases, it’s still possible to experience negative side effects from consuming gluten. If you’ve tested negative for both celiac disease and a wheat allergy, you may be suffering from a non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), which is estimated to be present in anywhere between 0.5% and 13% of the population.
What is gluten sensitivity?
Gluten sensitivity can cause symptoms similar to celiac disease, but it does not damage the tiny villi in your intestinal lining and there is no definitive test for it. Although gluten sensitivity has been reported as early as 1978, there is still a lot that is unknown about the condition. Symptoms of NCGS usually occur soon after the ingestion of gluten, and they disappear anywhere between a few hours and a few days after gluten has been removed from the diet.
Previously, it was thought that gluten sensitivity did not cause damaging inflammation in the small intestine. However, researchers at Columbia University Medical Center published a study in July of 2016 suggesting that exposure to wheat in people with gluten sensitivity may actually be triggering an immune response that damages the cells of the intestines. It’s estimated that the amount of people suffering from gluten sensitivity outnumbers the patients with celiac disease.
What are the symptoms?
Common digestive symptoms of gluten sensitivity include intestinal gas, bloating, abdominal cramping or pain, diarrhea, constipation, and nausea. Other possible non-digestive side effects are fatigue, anxiety, ADHD-like symptoms, brain fog, headaches, bone or joint pain, balance problems, confusion, numbness, depression, unexplained weight loss, anemia, or a skin rash.
How Does Gluten Sensitivity Develop?
It’s not known exactly what causes gluten intolerance or how it is related to other similar food intolerances or illnesses. Some scientists have suggested that another component of wheat (besides the gluten protein) is what is causing these symptoms, but there isn’t enough data yet to make a scientifically proven statement to that effect.
How to Test for Gluten Sensitivity?
Unfortunately, there is no definitive test for gluten sensitivity, which makes it a somewhat controversial diagnosis. Since there’s no test that specifically diagnoses gluten sensitivity, it’s a diagnosis that is made after celiac disease and a wheat allergy are ruled out. It’s a process of elimination.
Is There A Cure for Gluten Sensitivity?
No. The best way to treat a gluten sensitivity is to remove gluten from your diet. If doing so relieves your symptoms, then you’ll most likely be better off without gluten permanently. People with gluten sensitivity generally have a bit more latitude to experiment with what is acceptable in their diet, since it’s not known exactly what causes the adverse reaction. You may be able to enjoy things that have a low gluten concentration, such as soy sauce, or eat a bite of cake without developing troublesome symptoms.
Have A Gluten Allergy? Reach Out To Digestive Health Centers!
If you believe you may have a gluten sensitivity, it is important to see a doctor and undergo specific testing to receive the most accurate diagnosis. It’s a top asked question at Digestive Health Centers of Dallas, and we invite you to schedule a consultation with one of our board certified, fellowship-trained gastroenterologists to receive the best digestive care.