Understanding Gluten Intolerance

by Sara White

When it comes to dietary constraints, going gluten-free has become a rising trend in the past few years. From 2013-2014 alone, the gluten-free market increased its sales by 16.4%, reaching   a total of $23.3 billion in retail sales! We’ve seen a bunch of major celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Jessica Alba, Miley Cyrus and Katy Perry adopt a gluten-free diet, and it is estimated that around 1.6 billion people in the United States have followed suit. So, what’s causing this rise in opting to live a gluten-free life?


Celiac Disease

Celiac disease is a hereditary, chronic autoimmune disorder that affects around 1 in 100 people worldwide. Those with celiac disease are unable to eat gluten because ingesting the protein causes severe damage to the small intestine. This is due to an abnormal response by one’s immune system, leading to a malabsorption of nutrients that could result in anemia, infertility and multiple sclerosis if left untreated. Symptoms of celiac disease include nausea and vomiting, abdominal bloating and cramping, bone and joint pain, fatigue and weakness, irritability and fluid retention. The only known treatment for this disease is to follow a strict gluten-free diet. Thankfully, these products becoming more available and versatile on the market! (Check out these yummy Trader Joes gluten-free foods here!)


I don’t have Celiac Disease… So why do I have a hard time eating gluten?

You may have Gluten Intolerance. More and more people are finding that they are having trouble digesting gluten, however they do not test positive for celiac disease, which only affects less than 1% of the population.  Most people who have adopted a gluten-free diet suffer from gluten intolerance, now more formerly known as Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS). The severity of one’s of gluten intolerance is thought to be measured on a spectrum, as its intensity can vary. Those with a gluten intolerance find that they suffer from frequent headaches, “Brain Fog” (difficulty concentrating), cramping, abdominal pain and bloating, mood changes, low energy levels, and nutrient deficiencies.

The symptoms of Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity are extremely broad, making it more difficult to pinpoint if gluten is the culprit behind any of your cramping, deficiencies, headaches or mood changes. However, some doctors recommend trying an “elimination diet,” in which gluten is entirely eliminated from your diet for 30 days. If completely cutting out gluten from your diet makes you feel noticeably better, this could be your answer.


Why is Gluten Intolerance suddenly on the rise?

Some believe that increased awareness regarding what gluten intolerance is and what the side effects of gluten intolerance are has led more people to realize that they may have a celiac disease or NCGS. The rise in gluten wheat intolerance may also be attributed to the differences in how “modern wheat” is processed. “Old wheat” was obtained from ancient plants such as Kamut and Emmer, however because it became more economically feasible, the majority of the  wheat we now consume comes from dwarf wheat—commonly called “modern wheat.” The use of “modern wheat” began in the 1960’s as a result of genetic manipulation and cross-breeding, which changes and produces a different composition of wheat. The amount of nutrients that are in modern wheat decreased by nearly 28%, as this switch eliminated vital nutrients such as Iron, Magnesium, Zinc and Copper. Many experts believe that this is why so many people have recently begun to have more and more digestive issues when consuming gluten.


So, does this mean eating gluten is bad?

Not necessarily. This is still up for debate, as many doctors and nutrition experts argue that eliminating gluten from your diet (without having an intolerance to it) may result in nutrient deficiencies. Before trying a gluten-free diet, consult with your doctor to figure out what is the best option for you and your body!

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