So, your friend has a gluten intolerance, huh?
Oh, and your mom was just diagnosed with celiac disease? And your co-worker's wife's sister's BFF thinks her digestive issues might be linked to ... what was that?
Feel like everyone you know these days has an issue with gluten? Sure, it's a bit of an exaggeration, but the truth is celiac disease (CD) -- an autoimmune response to gluten -- currently affects 1 in 133 people.
Why Is Gluten the Bad Guy?
Here's the short of it: When people with CD eat foods containing wheat, rye, barley and triticale (i.e. gluten!), their immune systems cop an attitude and create a toxic reaction that causes damage to their small intestines, making them feel downright awful. We're talkin' cramping, depression, migraines, skin rashes, vomiting and more bathroom trips than you care to learn about.
Related: Is Wheat Making You Fat?
Don't Be So Sensitive
As for gluten intolerance and gluten sensitivity, the digestive system is again left unhappy, but without the CD immune response. Symptoms range from mild discomfort to those that are comparative to the ultra-icky ones related to celiac disease.
"The prevalence of gluten intolerance and celiac disease diagnosis is certainly remarkable and has clearly caught the attention of the medical community by surprise," says Jennifer Fugo, certified health coach and founder of Gluten Free School. "They've spent a massive amount of time generally believing that an immune reaction to gluten was of little interest and problem for those of us complaining of various issues that don't quite make sense when viewed separately."
Gluten on the Rise
So, why now? Why the increase in diagnoses? Experts say there are two main reasons pointing to the increased awareness of gluten and the nasty spell it has cast on many:
Today's "wheat" isn't exactly wheat. Kiss that idyllic vision of farmers harvesting their grains goodbye. The truth is, very little of our grain production is done in a wholesome manner. These days, we're chowing down on refined grains that have been modified to suit the business that agriculture has become.
We like to eat ... a lot. Take the fact that glutenous grains have been hocus-pocused and match it with the fact that the overconsumption of food is an ever-expanding problem, and you've delivered quite the double-whammy to your guts. "What might be an occasional issue in the past for those sensitive has now become a monster storm of inflammation that rolls through the body at every bite, [causing] repeated damage to the body," Fugo said.
Gluten-Free Game Plan
So what to do? If you suspect gluten may be the creeper that lurks in your gut, then get to the doc for testing. And listen up: Don't stop eating gluten before you have a blood test -- it may provide a negative result. If the blood test proves you're a dead ringer for celiac disease or gluten intolerance, then the doctor may order a small bowel biopsy. Don't worry -- after what your intestines have been through, a teeny biopsy is a walk in the park.
Left untreated, celiac disease can lead to even more health problems, including Type 1 diabetes, infertility, certain types of intestinal cancer and osteoporosis. So, don't mess around, mmmk?
Need more help?
Visit the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness or Celiac Disease Foundation for more information.
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Image sources: mnem, Matisse, bongiorno