Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Gluten Intolerance

What is Gluten Intolerance?

At a very basic level it can be defined as: a genetically inherited disorder in which gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, spelt, and barley) causes an abnormal inflammation of the intestinal lining. This, in turn, causes a malabsorption of vital nutrients, vitamins, and minerals in the foods eaten.

An extreme form of Gluten Intolerance is called Celiac Disease, a chronic autoimmune condition that presents itself with actual damage to the intestinal lining and bowel.

What are the symptoms?

Here is a list of the most common symptoms:
* Stomach and abdominal pain/cramping
* Bloating
* Constipation
* Diarrhea
* Gas, often very foul
* Heartburn or acid reflux

A list of other symptoms:
* Weight loss
* Stubborn weight gain
* Vomiting
* Floating/fatty stools
* Foul smelling or bloody stools
* Delayed growth/puberty
* Failure to Thrive (in infants/small children)
* Type 1 Diabetes
* Irritable Bowel Syndrome
* Autism/behavioral issues
* Bone loss/osteoporosis/bone pain
* Depression, irritability
* Fatigue
* Infertility
* Arthritis/Joint pain
* Mouth sores/ulcers
* Seizures/epilepsy
* Numbness or tingling in hands and feet
* Hypoglycemia
* Hair loss (Alopecia)
* Lactose intolerance
* Teeth and gum problems
* Mineral and vitamin deficiency, esp anemia
* Dermatitis Herpetiformis (a skin rash)

Pleasant, eh? It's all because nutrients are NOT being properly absorbed in the intestines! Even an individual with an extremely healthy diet can show signs of malnutrition. If the intolerance progresses to full-blown Celiac Disease, the villi and microvilli of the small intestine experience actual damage and proteins and toxins will freely pass through the intestinal lining into the bloodstream (called Leaky Gut Syndrome), causing a myriad of health issues (as seen in the symptom list above).

How Can I Get Tested?

Saliva, blood, or stool samplings are the methods.

As unpleasant as it may seem, a stool sample is best in testing for gluten intolerance because it will directly check for antibodies, your body's defense mechanism against the intestinal inflammation, that are already in the bowel. A blood sample would work for an actual Celiac patient because proteins and toxins have already entered the bloodstream through Leaky Gut Syndrome, causing an autoimmune response within the blood. Someone that only has a gluten intolerance may very well come back with a negative blood test result, as they are only producing antibodies within the intestines.

*Note: do NOT cut out gluten prior to taking a test. Maintain your normal diet for at least 4 weeks in order for an accurate test result.

Another simple way to test for gluten intolerance is to introduce your body to a gluten free diet for several weeks and see if the symptoms resolve themselves. This can seem very daunting and overwhelming at first because gluten is often "hidden" in foods, like "modified food starch" and "barley malt extract", etc. You have to read labels militantly and learn all the code words for gluten, like:

* Binder or binding
* Bulgur
* Couscous
* Duram (durum)
* Farina
* Filler
* Flour
* Graham
* Hydrolysed wheat protein
* Malt
* Natural Flavoring
* Semolina
* Starch
* Thickener or thickening
* Triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye)

As I began my journey of eating gluten free (summer '10), I stuck to meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts, berries, and dairy pretty much exclusively until I began to feel comfortable and brave enough to branch out a bit. I was terrified of seasonings and processed/pre-packaged foods because I didn't know what everything meant on the labels. As I became more learned, I stepped out and began eating a more varied diet. I still eat mostly from scratch and as homemade as possible because I don't want to risk getting sick. An introduction to gluten causes me gastro-pains for 3 days!!!

Ultimately, for me, it comes back to a stewardship issue. My body is a temple of the Holy God and He truly and fully cares about what I eat and how I care for my body. He has opened my eyes and understanding to what gluten intolerance is and how it has been hurting me. How and why would I knowingly continue to feed my body that which is bad for it? How can that be pleasing to Him?

Hopefully, I have shed some light on this topic so that others may discover for themselves if maybe they have this health issue. And if so, they can begin taking steps of obedience and caring for their bodies to the glory of God!

**I am by no means a medical expert on this topic. If you have any questions or concerns about your health, please contact your physician.

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