Years ago, hardly anyone knew what the word “gluten” meant, but now, nearly everyone seems to be dabbling in the gluten-free craze.
“There’s a recent study that says there are more gluten-free products on the market than patients with celiac [disease],” says Manojkumar Singh MD, a gastroenterologist at the TriHealth Digestive Institute.
If you have celiac disease, or gluten intolerance, then, yes, gluten-free is the way to go. But, how do you know if you’re allergic to gluten?
Celiac Disease: What is It?
Celiac disease is an immune disorder passed down through families. Gluten in a protein found in wheat, barley, rye or sometimes oats (including medications).
If a person with celiac disease eats or drinks anything containing gluten, the immune system responds by damaging the lining of the intestinal tract, which, in turn, affects the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.
Symptoms vary from person to person, but typically include:
- Abdominal pain, bloating, gas, or indigestion
- Decreased appetite (may also be increased or unchanged)
- Diarrhea, either constant or off and on
- Lactose intolerance (common when the person is diagnosed, usually goes away after treatment)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stools that float, are foul smelling, bloody, or “fatty”
- Unexplained weight loss (although people can be overweight or of normal weight)
Celiac Disease: How it’s Diagnosed
If you are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, talk with your doctor so you can get checked out and appropriately diagnosed. Your doctor may use blood tests to determine if you have certain antibodies, or proteins that are part of your immune system and tend to be higher than normal in people with celiac disease. He or she may also use an endoscope to look into your small intestine and take a sample of tissue, in order to confirm the diagnosis.
From there, if you are diagnosed with celiac disease, your doctor will recommend dietary changes, which include avoiding all food, drinks and medications made from gluten. “We put them on the FODMAPS diet, and that includes gluten-free, lactose-free and carbohydrate-free,” he says.
Joining a local or online support group may help, too. People can share practical advice on ingredients, baking and ways to cope with this disease.