Gluten intolerance is an inherited autoimmune disorder characterized by a sensitivity to gluten, a protein found primarily in wheat, rye, and barley. (Oats used to be considered a culprit, but no longer are.) When people with this condition eat gluten, their immune systems are activated and the resulting inflammatory response damages or destroys the villi that line the small intestines and allow nutrients to be absorbed.
A Chameleon of a Disease. Incidence of gluten intolerance is widespread. Upwards of 15 percent of Americans suffer with this condition. And, as I learned at a medical conference I recently attended, only about five percent of these people have been diagnosed and treated. According to experts at the University of Chicago Medical Center, it takes an average of 11 years to identify gluten intolerance, and the typical child sees eight pediatricians before getting an accurate diagnosis.
Although many patients, especially children, have bloating, abdominal pain, canker sores, diarrhea, or constipation, others have no gastrointestinal (GI) issues. Instead, they may experience seemingly unrelated weight loss, stunted growth, iron-deficiency anemia, bone pain, fatigue, thinning hair, or itchy skin. Affected individuals may also have neurological problems such as numbness, depression, anxiety, ADHD, autism, even seizures, dementia, and psychotic episodes. But all of these are signs of nutritional deficiencies brought on by malabsorption due to damaged villi.
A Sure Cure. The good news is that gluten intolerance is one of the few medical conditions for which we have a cure that is 100 percent effective for 100 percent of affected patients. All you have to do is eliminate gluten from your life. This is the only thing that will allow the villi to recover and regenerate.
Wheat, in particular, can be challenging for most Americans because breads, cereals, crackers, and the like have become dietary staples. Beyond the obvious sources, gluten is also present in many sauces, flavorings, and prepared foods, including soy sauce, beer, and frozen French fries.
You Do Have Options. You can buy flour and baked goods made of brown rice, almonds, potatoes, quinoa, and other gluten-free grains. And thanks to increasing awareness, many products are now carrying gluten-free labels. Furthermore, this way of eating is healthier overall.
Because this condition is a recipe for nutritional deficiency, it’s imperative that you also take a good daily multivitamin and mineral supplement, along with extra vitamin D, B-complex vitamins, and probiotics.
At Whitaker Wellness, we test our patients with suspicious symptoms and, if indicated, counsel them in appropriate diet changes. Sure, a gluten-free diet can be inconvenient and a challenge to stick with, but it’s absolutely worth it. Studies show that affected people who eliminate this protein eventually recover completely.