Gluten Intolerance and Celiac

I was in bed as soon as I came home from work—aching all over, struggling with brain fog and headache, and having diarrhea all the time. I was miserable and did not know what was wrong with me. All the testing a gastroenterologist could do offered no answers. They referred me to Mayo Clinic, where I was rejected because all the testing had been done. Dr. Roberts suggested alternative testing like ALCAT and did a full GI workup. She diagnosed me with gluten sensitivity and small bacterial bowel overgrowth. I’m so thankful that functional medicine testing was available locally so I could get healthy again and feel like a person!
— M.P. Bolivar, Missouri

Current estimates suggest that 1 in every 133 Americans suffers a reaction to ingesting gluten, which is present in many food products. Gluten intolerance is found in many foods otherwise considered wholesome, making the supermarket or restaurant dangerous for those who have an intolerance or celiac disease.

Patients find that sensitivity to wheat and associated glutens ranges in severity from mildly annoying to very serious. The intolerance is broken into 3 categories: Allergy, Intolerance, and Celiac Disease disorder.  New data suggest that 1 out of every 20 persons diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome suffer from celiac disease.

If you have an allergy to wheat, then itchy, watery eyes, running nose, skin rash, wheezing or diarrhea happen very quickly after ingesting it. Wheat allergies, like all food allergies, are caused when the immune system mistakenly recognizes proteins in food as dangerous substances and fights against them by releasing immunoglobulin antibodies, histamine and other chemicals. These chemicals cause the reaction. There are four proteins in wheat that can trigger your immune response: albumin, globulin, gliadin and gluten. Eliminating wheat may be enough to relieve your symptoms and you may still be able to eat oat or rye products without incidence, which celiac or gluten intolerant people often cannot.  Risk factors include age and family history. Adults that have been diagnosed with medical concerns including diabetes, osteoporosis, and even some forms of cancer have a higher risk of developing a wheat allergy. Children are more likely to have wheat allergies than adults, but young people with the allergies tend to outgrow them. 

Gluten intolerance, though many consider it to be a wheat allergy, is actually a separate issue.  A person with gluten intolerance has a severe reaction to the specific protein within wheat called gluten. It can be gluten intolerance on its own, or stemming from a disease like celiac. Many people who react to gluten don’t necessarily have wheat allergies because gluten intolerance and celiac disease are caused by different processes.

Gluten Intolerance causes digestive distress such as ache, bloating and diarrhea.  Skin issues like itching, eczema and hives as well as joint and muscle pain are symptoms of intolerance.  Conditions such as fatigue, malabsorption of nutrients, and headaches including migraines are not uncommon for people suffering from this condition. 

If you have celiac disease, you must avoid gluten totally to avoid destroying your small intestine and possibly leading to more serious diseases, including cancer. If you suspect intolerance or celiac disease, antibody screenings can diagnose your intolerance.

Our approach to gluten intolerance or celiac is testing to confirm that you have this condition and then making dietary recommendations for avoidance. We also pair this advice with supplements that can help rebuild the intestinal tract and ameliorate any co-morbidities like joint pain, headaches, or associated food sensitivity. Celiac disease can pose many potential health risks, so it is important that patients make lifestyle changes before the disease progresses and possibly causes future health complications.