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The Disease Behind Gluten Free

Now that we’ve covered the very basics of what gluten is, where it can be found (or hiding), and how to best avoid it, let’s get into what it’s really all about: Celiac Disease.

NERD ALERT: I love to dive in deep when it comes to research. I have simplified much of what I’ve read and learned over the years to keep it short and sweet here. I know no one has time for that anymore.

However, if you get the itch and want to learn more, I have included several links below to guide you to far more detail oriented articles that will take you down a GF rabbit hole. With that, let’s begin!

Gluten free has been all the rage for a few years now and unfortunately, with its rise in popularity, it has become known as a food trend rather than an actual disease. And yes, I say DISEASE, not allergy, because though gluten (and gluten free) is all anyone ever talks about, the reason behind those ever-popular words is Celiac Disease.

Celiac Disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder. When people with Celiac consume gluten, their body produces an immune response that attacks the small intestine. These attacks damage the small villi in the intestine. Though this doesn’t sound too detrimental, it is.

See, the villi are responsible for absorbing nutrients into the body, so when the villi are damaged, they no longer absorb proper quantities of nutrients that the body needs to survive. This can cause severe malnutrition, ulcers, joint and muscle pain, bloating, diarrhea, infertility, anemia, depression, migraines, chronic fatigue, and the list goes on.

Aside from celiacs, gluten-related symptoms can be linked to other medical conditions such as an allergic-reaction or an immune mediated response. The first produces antibodies in response to the consumption of wheat or gluten, which causes an immune response. It does not, however, cause damage to your small intestine like Celiac Disease (CD) does. Immune Mediated or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, patients have celiac-like symptoms but again, show no damage to their gut. There is currently research being done on both of the above as well as CD in order to gain a better understanding of how gluten truly affects the body.

There are five different tests right now that can help diagnose Celiac Disease, a gluten allergy, or a non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Many patients take part in 3 or more of these tests in order to get an accurate diagnosis.

  1. Anti-body Testing: Blood tests that screen for high levels of antibodies. This can alert doctors that further testing may need to be done but cannot provide a final diagnosis in itself.
  2. Genetic Testing: Looking for two markers – HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8. 99% of Celiac have one of these two genetic markers.
  3. Endoscopy: This is basically the gold standard for diagnosing Celiac. Note: a patient must be on a gluten-containing diet in order for results to be accurate. On a personal note, I ate gluten 3 times a day for 2 weeks straight before I was able to get a blood test and endoscopy. My blood tests came back negative but the endoscopy showed I did indeed have CD.
  4. Skin Biopsy: Though this cannot diagnose CD, it can show you have dermatitis herpetiformis, which is a skin condition associated with celiacs.
  5. Nutrient Testing: Because malabsorption is associated with CD, being testing for nutritional deficiencies can be an indicator that something more is going on. Further tests will still need to be performed for a Celiac Disease diagnosis.

After diagnosis, it is important to continue regular check-ups with your doctor, a celiac specialist, nutritionist, or all of the above to ensure you are not inadvertently still consuming gluten, to make sure your nutrient levels are not only normalizing but stabilizing, and to be on top of any other issues that may arise as CD patients are more susceptible to other health-related conditions.

The only known cure for Celiac Disease and other associated medical conditions is to eat a strict gluten free diet. And thus, we have come full circle now, why gluten-free is all the rage right now!

If you have any questions, please reach out in the comments below. The more we talk about CD, the more we know, and the more we know, the more we can help educate others.

Let’s work together to educate people that adhering to a gluten free diet is an actual medical treatment and not just a trend.

Lick The Bowl, It’s Gluten Free,

Tara Rylie