For several years Sara has been dealing with chronic digestive issues and joint pain. And some days she feels so exhausted it’s all she can do to focus on her work. She’s been to see her doctor about these issues several times, but has never been given a diagnosis. After doing some research of her own, she now wonders if something she is eating could be the culprit. She mentions what she’s learned to her doctor, who suggests that she get tested for celiac disease, an inflammatory and autoimmune condition that affects 1 in 133 Americans. In celiac disease, eating gluten causes an immune response in which the body attacks itself, destroying the finger-like projections in the small intestine that absorb nutrients. Sara’s lab test results reveal she does not have celiac. She should be rejoicing, but she’s still suffering with her symptoms. She’s left to wonder: now what?
As a reader of this blog, chances are Sara’s circumstances sound familiar to you. Did you know that you can be gluten intolerant without having celiac disease? Non-celiac gluten intolerance is much more common than people realize. In fact, according to a recent article published in the Wall Street Journal, as many as 1 in 20 Americans may suffer from this “non-celiac” type of gluten intolerance.
In his book Healthier without Wheat, Dr. Stephen Wangen points out that this generalized form of gluten intolerance is no less important or harmful than celiac disease. Consider the list – spanning nearly six pages of Dr. Wangen’s book – of signs and symptoms caused by or associated with gluten intolerance. This list includes almost 200 medical problems, ranging from digestive issues to eczema to iron deficiency to brain fog.
The good news is that emerging science may tell us more about how and why gluten reacts in people without celiac disease. A recent study published in the BMC Medicine journal shows compelling evidence that gluten intolerance is very different from celiac disease.
If you suspect you may be gluten intolerant, find a doctor or nutritionist who is knowledgeable about food sensitivities. He or she may recommend lab tests that can look for celiac disease as well as non-celiac gluten intolerance before you need to make any drastic changes to your diet. Making the switch to a gluten-free diet can seem incredibly daunting and it is a major lifestyle change, so it’s important to find a healthcare professional who can coach you through it.
If you do get the diagnosis of celiac disease or gluten intolerance, it’s important to get yourself educated and seek out support from others who are gluten-free. There are many helpful resources on the web. Here are just a few:
- The Gluten Intolerance Group of North America (GIG) website is an indispensable resource. You’ll find gluten-free product lists, restaurants, and recipes plus educational materials and links to local support groups in 32 states.
- Dr. Steven Wangen’s clinic in Seattle, The IBS Treatment Center, represents the epitome of root-cause oriented diagnosis and care of all digestive conditions. His website provides a host of important information.
- The Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland is the go-to resource for anyone interested in “digesting” cutting edge research.
Erin Hugus, MS, CN has a Master’s degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University. Erin is an expert in Diabetes care and is passionate about empowering people with realistic strategies for optimal health. She takes great pleasure in her time spent in the kitchen and loves cooking nourishing meals for her family.
Beck, M. Clues to gluten sensitivity. (March 15, 2011). Retrieved March 17, 2011 from Wall Street Journal website:
Wangen, S. (2009). Healthier without Wheat: A new understanding of wheat allergies, celiac disease, and
non-celiac gluten intolerance. Seattle, WA: Innate Health Publishing.
Sapone, A. et al. Divergence of gut permeability and mucosal gene expression in two gluten associated conditions: Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity. BMC Med. 2011 Mar 9;9:23.