Medical Reasons behind a Gluten-Free Diet - dummies

Medical Reasons behind a Gluten-Free Diet

By Nancy McEachern

Going gluten-free may not seem so exciting and adventurous if a medical condition forces you into it and eating gluten-free suddenly becomes a long-term necessity. The most common medical reasons that people have to be gluten-free are celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and an allergy to a gluten-containing grain.

But many people choose to go gluten-free to help manage a host of other conditions, too, such as autoimmune disorders, autism, migraines, and more.

If you’re eliminating gluten due to celiac disease or another medical condition, here are guidelines for your gluten-free diet:

  • Don’t cheat! It’s not worth the damage or discomfort you’ll cause. Be especially strict if you have celiac disease.

  • Be vigilant about making sure your food isn’t cross-contaminated with any gluten-containing foods.

  • When in doubt, leave it out.

  • Work with a doctor or nutritionist to make sure you’re getting all your vitamins and other nutrients.

Treat celiac disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks healthy cells in the presence of gluten. Experts believe as many as 1 in 100 Americans have celiac disease.

Most people who have celiac disease don’t know it. They often think something else is causing their health symptoms; perhaps they’ve been told they’re imagining their symptoms, or maybe they just live with uncomfortable symptoms without seeking help. Recent studies claim it takes an average of 11 years of misdiagnoses before someone is correctly diagnosed with celiac disease.

The lining of the intestines contains villi, little fingerlike projections that help absorb nutrients. When people with celiac disease eat foods that contain gluten, their immune system reacts by damaging these villi. Malnutrition occurs because the body can’t absorb nutrients. There’s no cure for celiac disease, but a totally gluten-free diet allows the intestines to heal, and the symptoms can disappear.

The exact cause of celiac disease is unknown, but if you have a relative who has it, you’re more likely to have it as well. And if you already have another autoimmune disorder, you may be more likely to develop celiac disease.

Handle gluten sensitivity or an allergy

New research confirms what many people have known for years: Gluten sensitivity is a real condition that’s separate from celiac disease. Recent studies show that many more people have this condition than celiac disease — as many as 1 in every 15 to 20 people — but very little information is available on how prevalent gluten sensitivity really is.

Some people just can’t tolerate gluten and must stay away from it to feel well. Gluten sensitivity symptoms can take many forms and may be different for each person.

If you’re experiencing any of the 300 possible symptoms of gluten sensitivity, then slashing gluten may be just the solution you’re looking for. By the time many people decide to try a gluten-free diet to improve specific health issues, they’ve already been to several doctors with no luck, and they’ve suffered at least a little for quite a long while.

Some people who have an allergy to wheat, barley, or rye are eating gluten-free as well. In fact, wheat is one of the most common food allergens. Gluten-free foods are wheat-free as well, but if you see “wheat-free” on a label, gluten may still be in the product in the form of barley or rye.

There isn’t a condition called a “gluten allergy,” but sometimes it’s easier to describe gluten sensitivity that way. People understand what a food allergy is; they know you can’t eat a certain food. A sensitivity somehow sounds optional, and well-meaning friends and family may try to influence these folks to “just have a little.”

Manage an autoimmune disorder by going gluten-free

A healthy immune system is your friend, but with an autoimmune disorder, the body can’t tell the difference between an invader and itself. It becomes your frenemy. Many health experts believe that cutting out gluten may help ease the immune system’s confusion and reduce the body’s inflammatory response, improving some symptoms of autoimmune conditions.

Here are just a few autoimmune conditions that may diminish with a gluten-free diet:

  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus

  • Type 1 diabetes

  • Rheumatoid arthritis

  • Sjögren’s syndrome

  • Multiple sclerosis

  • Chronic inflammatory bowel disease

Improve other medical conditions with a gluten-free diet

People may choose a gluten-free diet to manage many medical conditions aside from celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, including the following:

  • Migraines

  • Fibromyalgia

  • Autism

  • Attention deficit disorder

  • Anemia

  • Inflammation

  • Irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, diarrhea, constipation, gas, cramps, bloating

  • Behavioral issues, psychiatric issues, seizures, memory issues

  • Brain fog, depression, fatigue

  • Ataxia (a muscle coordination disorder)

  • Skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, acne, and rashes