Gluten is a protein found mainly in wheat, but also in barley, rye and oats. It is therefore found in a huge variety of the foods available, especially processed food. It may be a “hidden” ingredient. For example, gelatine contains gluten, and this is an ingredient in ice-cream, jellies, yoghurts and lollies. Also, “hydrolysed vegetable flavouring” is a common component of many processed foods.
What Is Gluten Intolerance?
Gluten-sensitive enteropathy, or coeliac disease, is a genetically transmitted auto-immune disease. It causes an immune response in the small intestine of sufferers, if they consume gluten. Gradually the small intestine is damaged more and more, and so progressively less food is able to be properly absorbed. Nutrients are expelled in the faeces and not used by the body for growth and repair. The damaged lining can no longer absorb such important nutrients as iron, (causing anaemia and fatigue), zinc, folate, magnesium and calcium.
It has been found that it is not only the sufferers of coeliac disease who react to gluten in the diet, but also those with Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis and Dermatitis. Some symptoms are common to each disorder.
There is a high genetic link in the development of coeliac disease. The tendency to develop it is inherited, although it is believed that other factors such as stress, health problems or the environment, may trigger its onset.
Women are more likely to be diagnosed, as are those of European descent, or those who were breastfed for an extended period of time.
-Constipation, diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain.
Effects On Sufferers
The lower rate of nutrient uptake is known as malabsorption. It predisposes people with coeliac disease to getting osteoporosis, as their bodies cannot use the calcium in food effectively. Other nutrient deficiencies can occur in the brain, liver, nervous system, digestive system and other areas of the body.
Coeliac disease sufferers also have an increased risk of having other auto-immune diseases, including thyroid diseases, Type 1 diabetes, and Addison’s Disease.
Cancer of the bowel is a possible effect of not avoiding gluten-containing foods. This abstinence must continue for life, if damage to the small intestine is to be minimised.
Also, lactose intolerance is common, as the villi, the small hairs on the surface of the small intestine, contain the enzyme necessary to digest dairy foods. The damage caused by eating gluten therefore also may cause lactose intolerance.
The larger majority of cases remain undiagnosed. It is important to be tested if you have any of the symptoms listed, though not to cease eating gluten until after this testing, as to do so may affect the diagnosis.