Understanding Gluten Intolerance

Understanding Gluten Intolerance
As many as one in 133 adults in the United States suffer from an intolerance to gluten. Sometimes referred to as nontropical sprue, celiac disease, celiac sprue, or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, this condition is often misdiagnosed and misunderstood.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat and other flours. Grains that contain gluten include wheat, barley, and rye. Ingredients in foods made from these grains also contain gluten-things like farina, graham flour, semolina, durum wheat, bulgur, Kamut, kasha, matzo meal, spelt, and triticale. Common foods that contain gluten include white or whole wheat bread, flour tortillas, pita bread, crackers, many cereals, pasta, cookies, gravies, and sauces.

What is gluten intolerance?

Gluten intolerance (or celiac disease) is a digestive condition triggered by eating gluten. When a person with gluten intolerance eats foods containing gluten, an immune reaction occurs in the small intestine. The result is damage to the villi on the surface of the small intestine and an inability to absorb nutrients from food.

What are the signs of gluten intolerance?

Signs of this condition can vary widely, which is one reason it is so difficult to diagnose. Most people have general complains like diarrhea, abdominal pain, and bloating that comes and goes. Symptoms may be similar to those of irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, gastric ulcers, parasitic infections, or anemia. Some people with celiac disease have no gastrointestinal symptoms.

What is the cause of celiac disease?

The exact cause of celiac disease is unknown. However, can be inherited. If someone in your immediate family has it, you may have it as well. Celiac disease can occur at any age but sometimes emerges after some form of trauma such as pregnancy, surgery, or a physical injury.

How is celiac disease diagnosed?

Celiac disease can be identified by a blood test that detects antibodies that are present when a person with celiac disease has eaten gluten. This can be found by studying a sample of the intestine under a microscope.

How is celiac disease treated?

Celiac disease has no cure. It can be managed by completely removing gluten from the diet. Once you have done that the intestinal villi can heal completely. To manage the disease and prevent complications, you must avoid foods that contain gluten for the rest of your life.

What can I eat if I have celiac disease?

If you are on a gluten-free diet you can enjoy fresh meats, fish, and poultry, most dairy products, fruits, vegetables, rice, potatoes, and gluten-free flours such as rice, soy, corn, and potato flour.

What should I avoid if I have celiac disease?

Breads, cereals, crackers, pasta, cookies, cakes, pies, gravies, and sauces can all contain gluten. Gluten-containing grains are often found in food additives such as malt flavoring and modified food starch. Reading food labels is critical to assure that you are not eating any gluten that might be in foods like commercial pie fillings, canned meats, condiments, soup mixes, non-dairy creamers, and many other foods.

There is controversy as to whether or not oats should be omitted in a gluten-free diet because some people can eat them without having symptoms.

How can I locate gluten-free foods?

Fortunately, gluten-free products can be purchased in some markets and on-line via the Internet. Check with your local grocery store to see if they carry gluten-free products or rice or potato flour. Gluten-free forms of many foods are now available, including brownies, breads, and beer. An example of a gluten-free market is The Gluten-Free Mall, which can be accessed at http://www.glutenfreemall.com/.


Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia: Celiac disease-sprue. Accessed January 2007. Available at www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/print/ency/article/000233.htm

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). Celiac Disease.
Accessed January 2007. Available at http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/celiac/

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