Could you have a gluten sensitivity or intolerance?
What is gluten?
Gluten is a substance found in just four of the grain family – wheat, rye, barley and in some oats. It is a sticky protein that binds the dough in baking made with these four grains.
Gluten sensitivity or intolerance?
Gluten sensitivity is different from a gluten “allergy”, which destroys the epithelial lining of the gut wall lining. This is called coeliac disease, which is an auto-immune disease and can be assessed via a blood test.
The cause of gluten sensitivity (also called non-coeliac gluten sensitivity or NCGS) is not yet fully determined, however, a gluten sensitivity or intolerance can damage “tight junctures” of the epithelial lining in the small intestine and may, therefore, contribute to inflammation and activation of the immune system.
What are the symptoms of gluten sensitivity?
The symptoms of gluten sensitivity are diverse, including both physical and mental, making it difficult to diagnose and identify in many instances as the symptoms mirror those in other disease processes.
Physical symptoms include: IBS-like symptoms, including abdominal pain, nausea, bloating, flatulence, diarrhoea or constipation and systemic manifestations such as headaches or migraines, joint and muscle pain, muscle contractions, leg or arm numbness, chronic fatigue, weight loss and anaemia.
Mental symptoms include: Behaviour disturbances such as the disturbance in attention and depression.
How can you find out if gluten is affecting you?
The above symptoms usually disappear when gluten is taken out of your diet. It is also possible to test for wheat/gluten proteome reactivity and autoimmunity and gluten-associated cross-reactive foods and foods sensitivity, which will enable you to cut out any other foods that may be triggering your symptoms.
Which foods can soothe a sensitivity?
All fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh plain meat and fish, eggs, milk, plain cheeses, butter, sugar, honey, jams, oils, plain nuts, dried fruits and vegetables canned in water, plain canned fruit, plain frozen fruit and vegetables are gluten-free.
The more ‘natural’ the foods the less likely they are to contain gluten.
Gluten-containing items such as bread, cakes and biscuits can be replaced with gluten-free (and wheat-free) flours. Other starchy foods in the diet that are naturally gluten-free are potatoes, rice, bananas and sweetcorn.
How can a nutrition professional help?
As gluten and wheat are hidden in so many products, it may be helpful to consult a trained nutritional therapist to carry out a dietary evaluation, as they will be able to help you avoid gluten, recommend diagnostic testing and ensure you are obtaining all the nutrients you need when avoiding a particular food group.
Furthermore, without specialist advice, and especially if you have a cross-reactivity with another food, even though you have removed gluten from your diet, your symptoms could persist and you may give up with the dietary changes you have made and your digestive problems may remain unresolved for many years to come.