Gluten-free foods are all the rage right now. Every grocery store is rushing to stock the shelves with gluten-free bread, pastries, cereals and more. But does everyone really to avoid gluten? How do you know? Is it based on symptoms, blood tests, an endoscopy, or do you need to have celiac disease? Is a gluten-free diet healthy, or do you end up deficient in certain nutrients. It can be confusing for the average person simply trying to improve their health or prevent a health condition that runs in the family.
Allergy versus Sensitivity
A gluten-free diet is a diet that excludes the protein gluten. Gluten is found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. Some people build up antibodies to the protein gluten creating a condition called celiac disease. This is an actual immune reaction to the protein gluten. These antibodies can be tested for in the blood. Some folks with Celiac disease have negative antibodies and diagnosis is made through an endoscopy. Celiac would be considered a true allergy or immune reaction to gluten.
It is possible to have sensitivity to gluten and not a true allergy. This applies to people who test negative for Celiac disease but have symptoms that improve on a gluten-free diet. There is a blood test for the IgG antibody to gluten to help make this diagnosis. Conventional doctors rarely offer IgG food allergy testing but this test I find useful and commonly run on my patients. Gluten sensitivity is linked to other health conditions such as hypothyroidism, endometriosis, infertility, and multiple sclerosis. Patients with multiple sclerosis, with or without Celiac Disease, improve on a gluten-free diet.
Whether or not someone has Celiac disease, certain symptoms seem to improve on a gluten-free diet. Those symptoms may include;
- Anemia, usually resulting from iron deficiency
- Loss of bone density (osteoporosis)
- Skin rash
- Headaches and fatigue
- Numbness and tingling in the feet and hands
- Joint pain
- Acid reflux and heartburn
- Digestive issues (constipation and diarrhea)
- Chronic colds
- Leaky gut syndrome
- Multiple Sclerosis
Downside to gluten-free
There can be a downside to eating gluten-free which is why it is not recommended if you don’t have celiac disease, a gluten sensitivity, or health condition known to be worsened by gluten. You may become deficient in certain nutrients by eating gluten-free. Many grains with gluten are enriched with vitamins. You may become deficient in iron, calcium, fiber, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and folate by eating gluten-free. People end up exhausted, constipated and have low bone mineral density. There is a simple blood micronutrient test to determine your current level of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and antioxidants. This test will help you determine if you are following a proper gluten-free diet or if you need some dietary advice, counseling and recommendations.
Some people need to follow a gluten-free diet and some don’t. There is a difference between a true gluten allergy and sensitivity. You don’t have to be diagnosed with Celiac disease to have sensitivity to gluten. A simply blood test can tell if you have a sensitivity. Some people have a health condition that is linked to gluten sensitivity and their symptoms may improve on a gluten-free diet. A gluten-free diet can be very difficult to follow, expensive, and if not followed properly, may leave you with nutrient deficiencies. It is best to seek guidance from your naturopathic doctor before going gluten-free.
Article contributed by Dr. Marianne Marchese