If you’re gluten intolerant, you may already know what gluten is and have had symptoms which I’m going to discuss in this article. However if you’re one of those individuals who has come across ‘gluten intolerance’ by seeing someone from your social circle who has it or seeing the ‘gluten-free’ label on certain groceries and processed food, and wondered what it is, or suspect you might be intolerant, this article is for you.
So what is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in some grains, primarily in wheat, rye, barley, spelt and oats. Just to simplify, gluten is found in yummy breads, donuts you love and most of the cakes. When one is gluten intolerant, they are not able to tolerate these foods containing gluten.
What is gluten intolerance?
Gluten intolerance is someone’s inability to digest gluten. The undigested gluten proteins remain in the intestines, irritating the gut and flattening the microvilli along the small intestine wall. Without those microvilli, the intestines have less surface area with which to absorb the nutrients from food. The level of intolerance can range from ‘sensitive’ to full scale ‘coeliac disease’.
What are the symptoms?
Some of you may have experienced gas, bloating, stomach pain, diarrhoea, constipation, headaches, tiredness and cravings, after eating food that contains gluten. These effects are an indication of gluten intolerance. They can occur immediately after or days after eating gluten.
Long term conditions may include symptoms such as migraines, tiredness, sleep difficulties, frequent infections like colds and flu, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, mood swings, memory loss, behavioral issues, skin rashes, itchy skin, asthma, bronchitis, coughing and many others.
What to do if you suspect you’re gluten intolerant?
Many people who are gluten intolerant, go undiagnosed all through their lives. In most cases, people may not even be aware of their symptoms or just think they’re normal. Although these days there is increasing awareness through programs educating the general public, providing information about the condition, which is a great thing.
The elimination of all the gluten-containing food from your diet will be the easiest and the best method to know if the gluten is causing your symptoms. If gluten causes the symptoms, eliminating it will cause the symptoms to disappear. A doctor can also test you for gluten sensitivity on a blood test or other tests.
A blood test many years ago showed that I was not coeliac but wheat sensitive. This meant that I had to avoid wheat and other gluten-containing food for my symptoms to disappear. Wheat was causing me dry and teary eyes. I noticed significant results with my dry eyes disappearing when I removed wheat from my diet. My bloating and other gastrointestinal symptoms also disappeared. I felt much better. I found that I could have small amounts of gluten in grains like rye and spelt without getting noticeable symptoms but wheat was the main culprit. Wheat is a very irritating and highly allergenic food today as it is hybridised, highly processed, higher in gluten, and is not the same as it was one hundred years ago. In my opinion, it is best avoided for better digestion.
With an excellent diet, healthy lifestyle and enough time (which can take months to years for some people), the gut can heal and you may be able to tolerate some grains with gluten like rye and barley again. For those who can’t, don’t despair as there are many alternatives and it can be good encouragement to eat a more wholesome diet.