What Is Gluten Intolerance Or Sensitivity?

By Sandy Carroll


We are frequently asked about various aspects of diet. One area that is commonly encountered is questions about gluten in the diet. We asked a representative for the Anoka County Minnesota Celiac Support Group to provide information from a patient’s perspective to gluten intolerance or sensitivity. Celiac disease is the result of this food sensitivity.


What’s With All This Gluten Free Food?


The air waves are full of ads for gluten free this, and gluten free that. Even restaurants advertise gluten free menus. What is all the fuss about? Well, here’s the scoop.


Gluten Intolerance or celiac disease affects about 1% of the population. That’s about 1 in 133, or 1 in 100, depending on which expert you ask. It is a common disease, but the majority of the population has not even been diagnosed yet.


Where Does Gluten Come From?


Gluten is actually a protein that is present in grains such as rye, oats, wheat and barley. It may be present in vitamins and medicines. Be sure and read the labels on products.


What is Celiac Disease?


Celiac disease flattens the villi of the small intestine and causes food to pass through the body without pulling the important nutrients out of food eaten. That’s why people get sick. Some have diarrhea, bloating, lowered autoimmune systems, general fatigue and anemia just to name a few. Not everyone has symptoms. Some have no symptoms at all, and some have a rash called Dermatitis Herpetiformis. The rash is generally on elbows and knees and is very painful and itchy. There are a number of associated illnesses with celiac disease. This includes the following:
  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)
  • Thyroid disease
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Sjogrens disease
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Musculoskeletal problems
There is celiac disease or gluten intolerance and gluten sensitivity. For celiac disease and gluten intolerance there are blood tests available and a biopsy of the small intestine. Currently there are no tests for gluten sensitivity.


What Can I Do?


If you are having digestive troubles, it is a good idea to keep a food chart. Write down what you eat and at what time. Then chart the times that you notice any of the uncomfortable symptoms you experience. Do not eliminate gluten from your diet until you are able to consult with a doctor. If you eliminate gluten from your diet, any tests would not be accurate because you have eliminated the gluten antibodies. Find a doctor that is knowledgeable of celiac disease or gluten related disorders. Be sure and bring your food chart to your doctor’s visit to help your doctor pinpoint what is going on. Do not be afraid to seek a second opinion. You need to be your own advocate.


There is a lot of information on the web. All you have to do is google ‘celiac’ or ‘gluten’ and you will have tons of selections to choose from. If you feel you have any issues with grains, be sure to do your research. A couple of the best websites for information are gluten.net and celiac.com. The gluten.net site is for the national Gluten Intolerance Group, or GIG as it is known.


And most importantly, if you do find you have celiac or gluten sensitivity, be sure to seek out a support group. Support groups have a wealth of information in their members and there is a sense of camaraderie. It helps to know you are not all alone as you maneuver the grocery store aisles looking for something to eat. It is important to interact with those that know how difficult the diet can be, are supportive, and are able to answer your most difficult questions.


The International Academy of Neuromusculoskeletal Medicine