Gluten is a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related grains including barley and rye. Gluten gives dough its elasticity, helping it rise and maintain its shape.
“Gluten allergy” is better described as a gluten sensitivity or intolerance and refers to health problems resulting from the adverse effects of gluten. Gluten sensitivity includes an array of disorders such as celiac disease and wheat allergy.
Though many people refer to celiac disease and wheat allergy interchangeably, they are two distinct conditions. With a wheat allergy, the body produces an antibody in response to the proteins found in wheat. This antibody leads to allergy symptoms. With celiac disease, the body hones in on one specific wheat protein—gluten. In response to the gluten, the body mounts an abnormal immune response that includes inflammation of the small intestines. Eventually, celiac disease can damage the lining of the small intestines and prevent absorption of vital nourishment for the brain and body. This is called “malabsorption.” In children, malabsorption can hinder proper development.
Celiac means “abdomen-related.” People with celiac disease are often simply referred to as “Celiacs.”
Celiac disease occurs in the small intestine. A healthy small intestine is lined by projections (like little hairs) known as “villi.” Villi absorbs nourishment from the food you eat. When someone with celiac disease eats foods containing gluten, their immune system reacts with inflammation of the small intestine that depletes the villi. When the villi become compromised, the body is less able to absorb important nourishment.
Celiac disease is more common among Caucasian people and may be triggered by stress, surgery, pregnancy and birth, or a viral infection.
Signs of Celiac Disease:
Symptoms of celiac disease vary widely. Gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea are among the most common symptoms, but many people with celiac disease don’t experience these “classic symptoms.” If you suspect that you have celiac, consult your doctor if you experience any of the following:
- Gastrointestinal issues (diarrhea, burping, bloating, acid reflux, heartburn, constipation)
- Abdominal pain
- A drop in body weight
- Delayed growth and development (in children)
- Bloating (distended belly in kids)
- Loss of bone or softening of bone tissue
- Skin rash (blisters, itching)
- Damage to dental enamel
- Nervous system problems (poor balance, tingling or loss of sensation in hands and feet)
- Discomfort or pain in the joints
- Poorly functioning spleen
Managing celiac disease:
Many celiac turn to a gluten-free diet to avoid the effects of this milk protein. However, avoiding foods with gluten can make it hard to get a nutritionally-complete diet. Supplementing with vitamins and minerals can help fill the gaps. If the intestines are severely inflamed, steroids may be useful in reducing inflammation.
In addition, the AllergyEasy sublingual immunotherapy program has proven successful in helping some Celiacs overcome the effects of the disease. Sublingual immunotherapy (also known as SLIT) uses an under-the-tongue allergy serum to desensitize the immune system to environmental allergens (pollens, etc.) as well as to reaction-causing food proteins such as gluten.
To discuss the possibility of testing and treatment using sublingual immunotherapy, contact AllergyEasy.