I’ve mentioned my friend who is currently learning all she can about Celiac Disease as she and two of her three children were just diagnosed with it. She’s gotten on message boards, talked to restaurant managers, studied food labels, and it’s just the beginning. One thing she is finding (and struggling with) is all the different perceptions when it comes to gluten free.
There are people allergic to gluten. There are those with a gluten sensitivity or intolerance. Others, like my friend and her daughters, have Celiac Disease, something altogether different. And then there are those who choose to go gluten free for other health reasons, ranging from a desire to lose weight to gaining more energy. What are all these different gluten reactions? Are they connected; are they manageable? Can you have any gluten? Here’s some help in deciphering it all:
Just like any allergy, this is the body’s reaction to something it thinks is harmful and antibodies build up to defend it. Symptoms can range from hives to anaphylaxis to nausea. A tiny bit can cause the reaction so avoidance is usually necessary.
This is when the body reacts to gluten in a negative way, but it is not an allergy. It is not life threatening, but an adverse reaction can manifest. Often it is seen in digestive issues. Many people with a food intolerance, gluten or other, can have small amounts of the food. In fact, a friend of mine knows that she has intolerance to dairy, so she weighs the risks of eating it. If she’s home alone, she may have that bowl of ice cream, but not in a crowd of people or if she has something to do. They can often tolerate small amounts, like the traces found in foods or croutons on a salad, just not sandwiches or a plate of pasta. Some people also refer to gluten intolerance as gluten sensitivity (or any other intolerance, like dairy).
This is what my friend and her family are dealing with, and is very different from the other gluten conditions. In Celiac Disease, the body cannot digest and process the gluten, so damage is done to the intestines and the body manifests symptoms in a myriad of ways. Not only is wheat a culprit, but also barley, rye and often oats. Because the body cannot process the gluten, the villi in the intestines can become damaged causing long term problems. With an allergy, once the reaction subsides, it’s over, not with Celiacs.
Those with this condition need to avoid altogether, like an allergy. It’s recommended households have two toasters if anyone else will be eating gluten, though a gluten free house is the best bet. Just like with an allergy, traces of gluten can lead to damage.
Here is a good article on gluten and Celiac Disease with a history of the condition, diagnosing, symptoms and complications. It does explain what my friend told me about not cutting out glutens even after being diagnosed if you are going to have an intestinal biopsy.
Optional Gluten Free Diets
Many people opt to go gluten free for different reasons, whether to lose weight or just cleanse. They may have no adverse reactions, but want to change their diets for benefits.
What happens sometimes, though, is restaurants may claim to have gluten free menu items, but they still bake their items in ovens used to bake gluten products or can have traces in other ways. That’s fine for people with gluten sensitivities or voluntary gluten free diets, but not for those with allergies or Celiacs.