June 8, 2014 by Kimberly Beauchamp, ND
I’m not one to jump on bandwagons, especially when it comes to science and medicine.
However, many common health conditions sometimes clear up when people avoid eating gluten-containing foods.
True gluten intolerance is called celiac disease. Many people with celiac know that they have it because of the severe symptoms it causes.
In recent years, more people with elusive symptoms (those that don’t fit the classic picture of celiac disease) have been diagnosed with celiac, in part due to better testing methods, and also from increased physician awareness of the disease (that is, more doctors know what to look for and are likelier to test people with certain symptoms).
But what about those people who seem to do better by not eating gluten, despite testing “negative” for celiac disease? Perhaps these people react to something other than gluten in gluten-containing foods, or maybe the tests just aren’t sensitive enough to pick up these milder forms.
Whatever the case, I’m not sure that it really matters. As much as I love testing, proof, and the scientific method, science isn’t perfect. This is where the clinical response is more important than the lab test.
In other words, if you feel better when you avoid gluten, does it really matter WHY?
Here are some common problems that gluten may cause. And if gluten really IS the cause, wouldn’t you like to know?
Headaches: Gluten is a common trigger for headaches. Besides gluten, a protein found in wheat products called wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) can cross into the brain, where it may have toxic effects. Migraine-sufferers often find relief by following a gluten-free diet.
Digestive issues: For people with gluten sensitivity, eating gluten can cause constipation, diarrhea, and just about everything in between. Bloating is a common symptom of gluten intolerance that often clears up with avoidance of gluten-containing foods.
Mood swings: Gluten has opioid-like activity in the brain, where it can create feelings of euphoria, as well as withdrawal symptoms between “exposures.” These symptoms may include anxiety, depression, and emotional lability (feeling like you’re on an emotional roller coaster).
Dizziness: Gluten can affect the part of the brain responsible for balance, called the cerebellum. People who are gluten sensitive may feel unsteady on their feet and have bouts of vertigo.
Pain: Unexplained aches and pains may actually be explained by gluten sensitivity. In many people, persistent pain—like that associated with fibromyalgia—may respond to a gluten-free diet.
Skin problems: Gluten sensitivity leads to poor nutrient absorption, which in turn can lead to skin issues like hyperkeratosis, or bumpy skin found on the backs of the arms.
Fatigue: Food shouldn’t make you feel tired. Constant fatigue, especially following a meal, may be a sign that you’re gluten intolerant.
Suspect you might be gluten intolerant?
The easiest way to see if you have a gluten intolerance is to completely eliminate it from your diet for a period of 3 weeks. Keep a journal of how you’re feeling during this time.
At the end of the 3 weeks, test a pure source of wheat (like Wheatena cereal) by eating a large portion of it for breakfast. Notice any symptoms? If not, try it again at lunch. Still no symptoms? Try again at dinner. If you make it through the next 48 hours with no change in how you’re feeling, gluten probably isn’t responsible for your symptoms.
If, however, any of your symptoms return (or NEW ones crop up), DO NOT TEST IT AGAIN. You can safely assume at this point that you are sensitive to gluten and you should probably avoid eating it.
Also, if you DO have any symptoms, make sure you tell your doctor. He or she may want to do further testing and make other healthcare recommendations.
The information contained in this blog is for educational and/or informational purposes only, and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prevent any condition. If you have any concerns about your own health or that of a family member, you should always consult with a healthcare professional.