Millions suffer from gluten intolerance. Or do they?

Seems everyone looks for a scapegoat to blame for why they don’t feel well. The scapegoat trending these days is gluten. Gluten-free foods are popping up all over grocery stores and consumers are flocking to consume them. It is estimated that 30% of the population has reduced or eliminated gluten from their diet. The questions to ask: why are so many people suddenly sensitive to gluten? Is it really necessary for otherwise healthy people to eliminate gluten? And what the heck is gluten, anyway?

What is gluten?

Gluten is a group of proteins found in grains (wheat, rye, barley and oats) and it is what makes bread and other baked goods fluffy and chewy. These grains also make up many of our pastas, granolas, noodles, tortillas, salad dressings and beers. The two main proteins in gluten are glutenin and gliadin which have elastic properties. When mixed with water and kneaded, the gluten gives elasticity to the dough. It’s like glue, serving as a scaffold upon which bread and other products are formed. In fact, the name gluten is derived from this glue-like property.

Not all health practitioners believe that gluten sensitivity is as widespread as the number of people who believe they have it. The symptoms of gluten sensitivity include diarrhea, stomach pain, tiredness, bloating and depression … symptoms that could easily be due to any number of other intolerances. But because gluten sensitivity is “trending” right now, many people just self-diagnose and jump on the gluten-free bandwagon.

The only conclusive research about gluten is that it is a serious problem for those with celiac disease. Very few people, only about 1% of Americans, have been diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder in which the body treats the gluten as a foreign invader. The immune system goes into attack mode, targeting the gluten as well as the lining of the gut. The damaged gut wall may cause nutrient deficiencies, anemia, severe digestive issues and increased risk of many diseases. The most common symptoms of celiac disease are bloating, diarrhea, constipation, headache, skin rashes, weight loss and foul-smelling feces.

On the other hand, there are many people who do not test positive for celiac disease, but who still react badly to gluten. This group suffers from non-celiac gluten sensitivity, with many symptoms in common with celiac disease. This group is estimated to be just 5% of the population. A third group of people are simply allergic to wheat.

Who Needs a Gluten-free Diet?

If you have celiac disease, a wheat allergy, or have been diagnosed as having non-celiac gluten sensitivity, adopting a gluten-free diet is a no-brainer. Such a diet will alleviate many of the bloating and intestinal issues associated with these conditions.

However, many people self-diagnose and it’s easy to fall into the trend of eating gluten-free, even if you don’t know why. Gluten may not even be the problem; it could be the carbohydrates that are in wheat. Poorly absorbed carbohydrates can make you gassy. Often this problem can be alleviated by just eliminating wheat, rye, lactose, fructose, apples and other gassy foods.

Is There a Downside to Eating Gluten-free?

Making food that is gluten-free often results in food that is dense and flavorless. That’s a definite downside. But worse, gluten-free foods have the ability to make you gain weight. Pre-packaged gluten-free products make up for the lack of gluten by adding fat and sugar to give the product texture, structure and consistency. Removing gluten in wheat also removes fiber which is so essential for a healthy GI tract. Fiber also helps prevent diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. And like most processed foods, many gluten-free foods are calorie-rich and nutrient-poor. Then there’s the financial downside: gluten-free foods cost more, sometimes 200% more than their gluten-filled counterparts. That being said, self-diagnosing your gluten intolerance can work against you in more ways than one.

How do you know if you have gluten intolerance?

You probably don’t enjoy the taste and texture of gluten-free food, so why eat it if you don’t have to? If your medical practitioner has ruled out celiac disease, LivingYoung Center has a simple test you can take to find out how much, if any, sensitivity you have to gluten. This test is call the Gluten Array 3 Test and it analyzes your blood for 35 gluten varieties and derivatives. It provides detailed information that will let you be the best judge of whether — for you — gluten intolerance is truly a malady, or merely a myth. Call us for more information about this enlightening test.