Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. When water is mixed with flour, the gluten becomes sticky like glue. The glue like properties of gluten allows bread to rise and gives dough the elastic properties that creates that chewy consistency we all love. It also helps to maintain shelf stability.
Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance
Most people can eat gluten without any problems; however, those with celiac disease, wheat allergies, and gluten sensitivity can experience a plethora of uncomfortable symptoms such as–
- Abdominal pain
- Alternating constipation and diarrhea
- Gastrointestinal discomfort
Benefits of Gluten Free Diet
In addition to preventing and/or relieving above symptoms, a gluten free diet offers a number of benefits including-
- Bloating Relief – If you have a gluten intolerance or have been diagnosed with celiac disease and consume gluten, you can experience excess gas and abdominal bloating. Abdominal bloating is defined as the uncomfortable feeling of fullness experienced after eating. Following a gluten free diet eliminates abdominal bloating and excess gas.
- Headaches – Gluten can trigger migraine headaches in individuals with a gluten sensitivity or gluten allergy. It is believed that gluten causes systemic inflammation, which can lead to headaches and migraines. If you often have headaches, try eliminating gluten from your diet for four to six weeks to see if gluten is the cause of your headaches. If the number of headaches declines, it can be an indication of a food sensitivity.
- Energy Levels – Many individuals with a gluten sensitivity suffer from chronic fatigue. With a gluten sensitivity, the intestinal tract can become damaged resulting in the inability to properly absorb numerous nutrients, including iron and common b vitamins. When these specific energy producing nutrients are not properly absorbed, it can lead to anemia, which causes exertion intolerance and fatigue. Switching to a gluten free diet allows your intestines an opportunity to heal, which will improve nutrient absorption and therefore improve your energy levels.
- Weight Loss – Individuals often find that they lose weight when they begin following a gluten free lifestyle. One of the reasons why this happens is a gluten free diet eliminates many junk foods, which reduce your caloric intake. Furthermore, these junk foods are replaced by lean proteins and healthy fruits and veggies. If you want to lose weight, avoid processed, gluten free snacks and cakes because they can add too many calories, resulting in weight gain
- Joint Pain – Celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity cause an immune response and increases inflammation throughout the body. Individuals suffering from these types of gluten reactions often experience pain in their wrists, knees, and back. A gluten free diet may help to alleviate joint pain. Remember, the only way to prevent a reaction is to completely eliminate gluten from your diet. Even a small amount of gluten can cause a recurrence of your joint pain.
- Bone Health – Individuals who have a gluten intolerance or undiagnosed celiac disease often have severe calcium deficiencies. Gluten can damage the intestinal tract and reduce the body’s ability to absorb calcium. Calcium malabsorption has been linked to bone issues, including osteopenia and osteoporosis. By following a gluten free diet, bone mineral density will begin improving as the body begins properly absorbing calcium.
- Skin Health – Our skin is the largest organ of the body by land mass. When inflammation or damage occurs in the body, it often causes skin problems. Individuals who suffer from a gluten intolerance, a gluten allergy, or celiac disease are at an increased risk of having skin rashes, psoriasis, or eczema. Following a gluten free diet reduces systemic inflammation and improves your skin’s overall health.
- Depression – Individuals with celiac disease or who have a sensitivity to gluten are at an increased risk of suffering from depression. Gluten can damage the absorption of vitamins and minerals, which can negatively impact your brain function. Researchers have found that celiac disease has been linked to several mental health illnesses, including depression, anxiety, ADHD, and schizophrenia. Eliminating gluten from the diet can improve brain function and reduce the risk of mental illness.
- Hair Loss – A gluten intolerance can also cause hair loss. If you are experiencing hair thinning, try removing gluten from your diet. Oftentimes, a gluten free diet reverses hair loss, improves hair texture, and increases the density of your hair. Malnutrition is often the cause of unexpected hair loss. In addition, celiac disease causes the immune system to attack the body. One area that is typically attacked is the scalp. When the immune system attacks the scalp, inflammation can occur, resulting in reduced blood flow and eventually hair loss.
- Lactose Intolerance – Those suffering from a gluten intolerance or celiac disease may also exhibit lactose intolerance. Gluten damages the lining of the intestines. When the lining becomes damaged, it cannot properly produce lactase, the enzyme that breaks down the protein, lactose, found in dairy products. Following a gluten free diet will allow the intestinal tract to heal, and thus improve the production of lactase. Over time, the symptoms of lactose intolerance will be reduced or eliminated.
Ready for a Gluten Free Diet?
Following a gluten free diet can be incredibly challenging. If you are experiencing the symptoms associated with a gluten allergy or intolerance, our integrative health practitioners can help guide you toward healthy lifestyle changes and a gluten free diet. Gluten is found in many of the foods Americans enjoy. Furthermore, it can be found in medications, cosmetics, and household products. Here is a list of some of the most common foods that may contain gluten:
- Baked goods like pastries, cakes, muffins, pizza, cookies, etc.
- Beverages, including flavored alcoholic beverages and beer
- Seasoning mixes
- Sauces, such as soy sauce, salad dressing, teriyaki sauce, marinades, and hoisin sauce
- Snacks, including crackers, chips, popcorn, candy, pretzels, candy, and roasted nuts
Because gluten is in so many foods, it is vital that you read labels. Gluten is found in barley, brewer’s yeast, durum, malt, rye, semolina, triticale, wheat bran, and wheat flour. In addition to this, certain gluten free foods like oats are processed in factories where wheat foods are processed, increasing the risk of cross contamination. To help ensure you avoid gluten, opt for single ingredient whole foods.