Before I answer the question about who should eat a gluten free diet. Let’s discuss what gluten is and why it gets so much attention.
Gluten describes the proteins that are found in wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten is often added to foods to modify the texture, flavor, and moisture. So why is this a bad thing? It is not a bad thing for everyone, but over the years as the properties of gluten have been changed, making it more desirable to for use in processed foods, it has become more antigenic. Meaning, the gluten protein is different than what adults were exposed to as children, and their immune system has not developed tolerance to it and may identify it as foreign. This causes the body to produce an immune response, often resulting in inflammation causing a number of symptoms.
The following health conditions generally necessitate a gluten free diet.
- Celiac Disease is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system reacts to gluten causing damage to the digestive tract. This prevents the absorption of important minerals and nutrients. Symptoms may include abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea, but these can vary. A strict gluten free diet is required to prevent long term health problems such as cancer and osteoporosis.
- Gluten Sensitivity may produce similar symptoms to Celiac Disease, but damaging effects on the intestine are not seen initially. However, with continued exposure to gluten Celiac Disease can develop. Gluten sensitivity is thought to be related to a genetic predisposition, and when certain environmental triggers are met the body produces a reaction or symptom.
- Wheat Allergy is an allergic response to foods containing wheat. This is most common in children. Symptoms may include sneezing, stuffy nose, nausea, or severe allergic reaction. A wheat allergy does not require a gluten free diet, but instead a strict avoidance of anything containing wheat.
Other conditions that may benefit from eating gluten free:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
If you are not sure if you should be following a gluten free diet, food sensitivity and stool testing are two types of tests that can assess how your body is reacting to gluten. Another approach is to remove gluten from your diet for 4 weeks and see if you notice a difference in how you feel. Keeping a diet log and tracking your symptoms will help you note improvements in how you are feeling. Even if you are not sensitive to gluten, it has been shown to cause significant inflammation and any health condition associated with inflammation is likely to benefit.
Next month I will discuss what a true gluten free diet is and how to get started.