It seems that a rather large population is on a gluten-free diet, and I have to admit, I have started one myself. The number of cases of Celiac disease and its counterparts, gluten intolerance and gluten sensitivity, are substantially increasing. At a rate four times that of 1950, it is estimated that one of every 100 people have some form of the disease.
Celiac disease is the inability of the gut to digest gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. It is also found in many other grains and processed foods, including deli and canned meats, dry roasted nuts, salad dressings, beer, and condiments. Additionally, products containing emulsifiers, starches, stabilizers, dextrin, modified food starch, and a host of other extremely common processed food ingredients contain gluten. The list is long.
In Celiacs, foods containing specific types of proteins become virtually glued to the lining of the small intestine. Lined with tiny finger-like projections called villi that normally increase surface area of the intestine for absorption of nutrients, a Celiac’s intestine turns the above foods into balls of glue that flatten the fingers. That prevents digestion and nutrition, and causes symptoms of bloating, diarrhea, and stomach aches. Untreated Celiac disease can lead to many serious health issues, including cancers, osteoporosis, joint pain, rashes, and infertility.
The disease itself is really an immune response to gluten, as the body attacks the stomach lining when specific gluten proteins are present. Some researchers believe we have made our environment too clean, weakening our immune systems in the process. Others believe the mixture of processed foods, which were not a part of our predecessors’ diets, are to blame. Some find fault with the hybridization of grains, especially wheat, having turned the natural proteins into super-proteins, through genetic tinkering, with some side effects.
Diagnosing Celiac disease is relatively easy, done with a simple blood test that reveals positive or negative results. Patients that undergo the test after eliminating gluten from their diet sometimes receive false negative results, so it is important to get tested before going gluten-free.
Approximately one-third of the population is genetically predisposed to Celiac disease, with just one percent actually developing it. Most who eliminate gluten ultimately see a full recovery of their intestinal linings with continued gluten-free diets. One of every 50 patients with the disease wiIl not experience recovery in their intestines, even after eliminating gluten, causing severe complications.
Those numbers may not seem dramatic, but if cases increase in the future as they have since 1950, celiac disease will begin to rival cancer as a major health concern. If you are experiencing symptoms indicative of the disease,it is a good idea to talk with your health care provider about getting tested. Even if you aren’t diagnosed with Celiac, the benefits of a Gluten Free diet may still be worth while. After 6 weeks on the diet I’ve found my energy level dramatically increased and my stomach aches fewer and farther between.