What is Gluten Intolerance?
What is Gluten Intolerance?
A group of proteins known collectively as gluten is primarily blamed as the culprit for gluten intolerance. Gluten, particularly glutenin and gliadin in wheat, secalin in rye and hordein in barley is useful in baking due to its elastic property. When an individual with gluten intolerance consume baked products or any food with gluten, his/her immune system considers gluten as toxin and treats it as such. This mechanism mainly affects the digestive system and bodily functions.
The term gluten intolerance refers to the whole category of conditions characterized by sensitivity to gluten which includes Celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity and wheat allergy.
Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder that disrupts the processes of the small intestine. The immune response in this condition directly attacks the body's own tissues leading to intestinal damage or enteropathy and increased intestinal permeability. This allows toxins, bacteria and undigested food proteins to pass through the gastro-intestinal barrier and diffuse into the blood stream. Similarly, with damaged intestinal tissues, nutrients will not be absorbed efficiently resulting in malnutrition and weight loss in the long run. Celiac disease can be diagnosed through gluten intolerance blood testing, HLA genetic testing, and intestinal biopsy. Some of its symptoms are diarrhea, stomach upset, abdominal pain and bloating.
Although gluten intolerance is often associated with Celiac disease, a person can still be gluten intolerant without such disorder. Non-celiac gluten intolerance is a less severe condition that results from an innate immunological response. An innate immune response is not antigen specific and it does not cause any damage to tissues. Most of its symptoms are similar to that of Celiac disease, but without the intestinal damage. Non-celiac gluten intolerance symptoms may also include fatigue, headache, poor concentration, inflammation, joint pain and numbness often manifested hours or days after gluten consumption. It is determined when a person is found to be negative in Celiac disease tests, but cannot tolerate gluten and manifests related symptoms. A very sensitive test for gluten sensitivity is the Cyrex Array 3 .
Wheat allergy is caused by the body's negative immune response to food protein. The effect of wheat allergy often lasts for a short period of time and is not detrimental to body tissues. It can be diagnosed through skin prick tests, IgG blood testing and food challenge.
Recent research suggests that gluten alone may not be the reason for gluten intolerance; instead it is caused by the malabsorption of poorly digested carbohydrates known as FODMAPs (fermentable oligo-di-monosaccharides and polyols). Grains rich in gluten are also high in FODMAPs. Grain mycotoxin and GMO grains also contribute to gluten sensitivity. Nonetheless, further research is needed to support this finding.
Gluten intolerance treatment involves completely eliminating gluten from the diet. Following a gluten-free diet can help control the symptoms and prevent the complications of gluten intolerance. However, it is important to note that there is no cure for gluten intolerance and an individual with this condition needs to maintain a gluten-free diet. It is highly recommended to consult a dietitian for an individualized diet specifically crafted for an individual’s condition and food preference.
I recently had a functional medicine phone consultation with a 45 year old woman complaining of brain fog, chronic fatigue, sad mood, poor attention and focus, muscle aches and joint pain. She had seen her primary care doctor and had some blood work including a celiac panel, all of which were normal. Her Neuroadrenal Profile revealed high Epinephrine, Glutamate and Histamine levels; Serotonin, Dopamine, and GABA were low. Her cortisol levels revealed adrenal fatigue. Because of her elevated Histamine and Glutamate levels, we ordered a Cyrex Array 3 which came back positive for gluten sensitivity.
She started a grain and dairy-free Paleo diet, PHP pancreatic enzymes, Adrenal Fatigue drops, GABA Boost, NAC, Leaky Gut Repair powder and Serocor. We also gave her Anti-InflammaLox to reduce inflammation and joint pain. Within 4 weeks, her energy, mood and attention had improved. Within 8 weeks, all of her symptoms had resolved, she was working full-time and she had started an exercise program.