How We Can Better Understand Celiac Disease?

Similar to an array of fad diets, having a gluten sensitivity is very “in.” This is a bit of a double edged sword for patients who have received a celiac disease diagnosis since it has drawn attention to the cause and has contributed to a rapid increase in the availability of gluten free products, but has also contributed to a lack of understanding of the autoimmune disorder.

An important distinction to make is that there are a variety of issues pertaining to gluten/wheat/barley/rye and they all have different mechanisms of action. Firstly, celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which our body essentially attacks our bowels when we eat gluten. While patient’s with celiac disease often instantly become ill when they eat gluten, they also have long-lasting health effects which include anaemia and an increased risk of developing certain GI cancers. Thus, with celiac disease, there really is not “cheating.” You cannot eat gluten.

Next, if eating wheat, barley, or rye makes you instantly ill but you do not have celiac disease, you could have a true allergy to any of the above. Depending on the severity of your allergy, in general, you should strictly avoid whatever the offending agent is. Symptoms of an allergic reaction could include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, swelling of the lips, tongue, throat, hives, or loss of consciousness. Often, the more one is exposed to their allergen, the worse subsequent allergic reactions are.

Then, we get into a bit of a grey area where patients have confirmed with their medical provider that they do not have celiac disease or a true allergy but they are avoiding gluten since it overall still makes them feel a bit crummy or they are doing so due to a diet they are on. We have a bit to say about this! Firstly, you may be encouraged to avoid gluten if you are following a low FODMAP diet due to an IBS diagnosis. If this is something you have discussed with a credentialed care provider, and eating gluten makes you feel ill, then absolutely avoid it!

However, in the instance that you are trying to avoid gluten for a diet, we encourage you to touch base with your care provider, a nutritionist, or dietician to identify the goals of your diet. Simply avoiding gluten rarely achieves weight loss.

The Diem take: gluten free foods are not healthier than gluten-containing foods and unless you have celiac disease or an allergy gluten-free foods probably will not benefit you. If you currently avoid gluten in your diet, but have never chatted with your care provider as to why, book an appointment with them if you can for further testing or to identify nutritional goals.

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