Understanding Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance and Celiac Disease

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My family is a gluten free family. About 3 years ago my daughter was diagnosed with Gluten Intolerance. She had been having reactions for years that we couldn’t figure out the source and when we got the results we were scared and relieved at the same time. My mom has Celiac Disease — so thankfully I had already had some experience in finding gluten free items and what we needed to do to change our home over to gluten free. To my surprise when we made this switch, I too noticed health changes in myself. Many of the digestive discomforts I had been having my entire life cleared up. I do not think this was a coincidence at all.
Everywhere you turn now, it seems like you can find someone who is avoiding gluten. It has been estimated that nearly one-third of Americans are now avoiding gluten completely or in part. With so many people jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon, it has become difficult to find accurate and evidence-based information surrounding medical conditions that actually necessitate going gluten free. If you want to learn more about celiac disease and non-celiac gluten intolerance, keep reading to learn the facts about each of these medical conditions.

What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is a rare, autoimmune disease that affects approximately one percent of the nation’s population. Only around 1 in 133 people in America actually suffer from this disease, and it tends to run in families. When a person has celiac disease, they lack the ability to properly digest the gluten protein. In turn, whenever their bodies come into contact with even one tiny particle of gluten, an autoimmune reaction is spurred and the villi of their small intestines become damaged. Overtime, the damage can become widespread and cause other medical conditions such as malnutrition and cancer. The only treatment for celiac disease is to eat a gluten free diet.

What is Non-Celiac Gluten Intolerance?
Non-celiac gluten intolerance is a relatively new medical diagnosis that causes similar symptoms to celiac disease, but that does not involve an autoimmune reaction. People with non-celiac gluten intolerance cannot tolerate eating gluten, but their intestines do not become damaged if they do eat it. Early research into the disease has suggested that people who suffer from this condition may have an innate immune response, instead of a full-blown autoimmune response. Both celiac disease and non-celiac gluten intolerance can cause a wide variety of symptoms including digestive distress, headaches, joint pain, foggy mind, fatigue and neuropathy.

How Has Wheat Production Changed Over Time?
One of the main beliefs in why so many people suffer from non-celiac gluten intolerance in today’s society is that wheat is completely different than it was centuries ago. Over time, the wheat plant has evolved on its own and its genes have changed. Plus, wheat production is much more refined today than it was in the 19th century. Both of these factors contribute to the differences in wheat today versus wheat form the 19th century, causing a far less nutritious product that can be more difficult to digest.

The Impact of Modern Wheat on People with Gluten Intolerance
Modern wheat has an immeasurable impact on people with celiac disease today because patients who suffer from celiac disease, have an autoimmune disease that they would still suffer from if they could eat wheat from the 19th century. However, modern wheat may be the culprit behind non-celiac gluten intolerance. Gluten is a protein that has many different forms, and some forms of the protein seem to be more harmful than others. Modern wheat contains many more harmful gluten proteins than traditional wheat did, and thus has the ability to cause more reactions. Non-celiac gluten intolerance seems to be on the rise because people are eating more and more products that include wheat. In turn, they find these products difficult to digest and realize that if they take gluten out of their diets, then they feel a lot better.

If you are gluten free, talk with your doctor about both celiac disease and non-celiac gluten intolerance. Unfortunately, if you do have celiac disease, then the only way to be tested for the disease is to reintroduce gluten into your diet. There isn’t a medical test for non-celiac gluten intolerance, but if you feel better and healthier without gluten in your diet, then it’s up to you and your doctor if you continue to avoid the protein.

Gluten Free Does NOT always equal healthy

It is important to remember that those with Celiac and Non-celiac gluten intolerance are not gluten free by choice. It is not a fad diet. It is an allergy. It’s also important to realize that being gluten free does not equal healthy. There are plenty of gluten free items on the market that are filled with sugar, salt, fat and calories. Your best bet for healthy is always to shop real food, on the outside of the grocery aisles and get organic fresh food whenever possible.

My daughter has been gluten free now for 3.5 years and she is a healthy happy 6.5 year old! Her allergies improved 10 fold and we have many less sick days now. 🙂 SHe is aware of her allergy and asks everyone if the item has gluten in it before she eats it… it takes some more planning when it comes to social gatherings and school, but it has also become more well known in mainstream places. If you need any help feel free to drop me a note!