Gluten and Celiac Disease

Posted on January 13, 2007 by Sarmaad

Gluten is responsible for the elasticity of kneaded dough allowing it to be leavened as well as for the "chewiness" of baked products. People who have celiac disease, gluten intolerance, dermatitis herpetiformis, wheat allergy or other health problems cannot tolerate gluten which is commonly found in grains such as wheat (including spelt, triticale, and kamut), rye, oats, barley, millet and any derivatives of these grains. These foods include most grains, pasta, cereal and many processed foods. No gluten is found in rice, wild rice, buckwheat, quinoa, sorghum, amaranth or maize (corn). Gluten intolerance is commonly known as leaky gut syndrome and it is estimated that the incidence of gluten sensitivity is around 30% of the population.

Celiac disease is the most commonly known disease related to gluten intolerance. It is a fairly common disorder with about one out of every 133 people having the disorder. The cause of it is unknown, but it is thought that both genetic and environmental factors contribute to the disease. If a parent or sibling has celiac disease then you have about a 20% chance of also having the disease and it is recommended that you be tested.

If you have celiac disease and you eat any food containing gluten (even tiny amounts of gluten can cause harm), the immune system responds by damaging the small intestines. It targets specifically the villi (small finger-like projections lining the intestine walls) and causes damage to the lining of the small intestines. Nutrients from food are absorbed into the bloodstream through the villi. A person without villi becomes malnourished no matter how much food they eat. If celiac disease is left untreated, it can lead to a range of disorders including;

  • Malnutrition
  • Osteoporosis
  • Infertility
  • Deficiencies of nutrients (especially iron, calcium and B vitamins)
  • Lymphoma or adenocarcinoma of the intestine
Women with untreated celiac disease have an increased risk of miscarriage and it can also cause congenital malformation in unborn babies, such as spina bifida.

People with coeliac disease remain sensitive to gluten throughout their life. Even if symptoms disappear, damage to the small bowel can still be taking place, if gluten is being ingested. With the removal of gluten from the diet, a reversal of the abnormalities of the lining of the bowel occurs and the problem of deficiencies will be resolved.

The disease can appear at any age (some people develop symptoms in infancy, while others are fine until the disease surfaces later in adulthood). Many stressful events can trigger celiac disease such as infection, pregnancy, childbirth or severe emotional stress. The symptoms of celiac disease are different for everyone and may include -

  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Fatty stools
  • Abdominal bloating and pain
  • Weight lossAnaemia
  • FatigueWeakness and muscle cramps
  • NauseaVomiting
  • Respiratory problems (asthma)
Maintaining a gluten-free diet means becoming aware of all the foods and products that contain wheat. There are many obvious foods which contain gluten, but there are also a whole range of ingredients which can come from a gluten source such as modified food starch, preservatives and other food additives. It is essential that you become "ingredient aware".

In Australia our food standard codes requires that:
  • Food labelled as 'gluten free' must not contain any detectable gluten and no oats or malt.
  • Food labelled as 'low gluten' must contain less than 0.02% gluten.
  • The gluten content must be added to the nutrition information panel of a food labelled gluten free or low gluten.
  • Ingredients derived from grains containing gluten must always be declared on food labels.
If ingredients are not listed on the product-label, always check with the manufacturer and if you are not sure of the gluten content of any ingredient do not take the chance.

People with celiac disease can still enjoy a well balanced diet with a variety of foods, including bread and pasta. Instead of wheat flour, you can buy a wide range of gluten free flour and baked goods which can be made from rice, soy, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, beans, corn and potatoes. Of course you can also enjoy naturally gluten free foods such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy products without additives, fruits and vegetables.

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