Pancakes, macaroni and cheese, hamburgers and chicken noodle soup are all staples of the American diet. But what if these familiar foods caused you to feel tired, bloated and depressed? Gluten may be to blame.
You may have heard of going gluten-free — avoiding all foods containing gluten — as a diet trend. But for those living with celiac disease, gluten is eliminated to control numerous and painful symptoms. We asked Caitlin Bus, Renown Health registered dietitian, to explain more about the condition.
What is celiac disease? Celiac disease is a lifelong autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. When people with celiac disease consume gluten, their bodies create an immune response that attacks the small intestine and can lead to serious conditions.
What is gluten? Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It acts like a glue that holds food together to maintain its shape.
What are the symptoms? There are many symptoms of celiac disease, including abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea or constipation, gas, weight loss or weight gain, anemia or other vitamin or mineral deficiencies, fatigue, brain fog, joint pain, depression, anxiety, headaches, migraines, irritability, delayed puberty, menstrual irregularities, hair loss and/or eczema. Many of these symptoms overlap with other related conditions, and therefore this list is not a diagnosis tool. Discuss your symptoms with your physician to see if you should be tested.
How do I know if I have it? To test for celiac disease you can request your physician order a celiac disease panel blood test or to be referred to a gastroenterologist. The most common antibody test is a tTG-IgA test. A diagnosis can also be made by endoscopic biopsy of the small intestine. If you tested negative for celiac disease, but still find relief in your symptoms after removing gluten from your diet, then you may have non-celiac wheat sensitivity.
Why is it important to get diagnosed (early)? If you suspect you may have celiac disease it is important to be tested early to prevent any serious illnesses, nutritional deficiencies or malnutrition.
What is the treatment? The only current treatment is a lifelong adherence to a strict gluten-free diet.
Have you seen an increase in this diagnosis in recent years? It does seem to me that there has been an increase in people diagnosed with celiac disease and non-celiac wheat sensitivity over the years, but this may be due to an increase in awareness versus an increase in prevalence.
What are some tips for eating gluten free? Gluten is found in foods made with wheat, barley and rye, which includes most breads, pasta, pizza, cereals, baked goods and beer. Gluten can be found in many types of foods, even ones you may not expect. I recommend starting with naturally gluten-free foods such as fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds. There are also many grains that are naturally gluten-free, including rice, corn, potato,and quinoa, and most stores offer gluten-free substitutes. Label reading is very important for any pre-packaged foods. Read the ingredient list to verify it does not contain wheat, barely, or rye ingredients, and/or read the allergy statement.
What are some surprising sources of gluten? Gluten can be hidden in unsuspecting foods like salad dressings, condiments, soups, dietary supplements and medications. Even toothpaste or lipstick can be a problem if you swallow some. Cross-contamination is also important to consider. Even a few crumbs you cannot see can cause damage to the intestine.