Gluten intolerance is a lifetime gluten protein intolerance. It’s not always easy to spot intolerance. Nausea, diarrhea, and flatulence are common symptoms for those who are affected.
Gluten intolerance (celiac disease also called celiac sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy) is becoming more common among doctors’ diagnoses. According to the most recent statistics, one out of every hundred people currently has gluten intolerance. In Western countries, this is more widespread than in Asia. Gluten intolerance affects people of all ages. The autoimmune illness can affect even little toddlers.
Despite the fact that celiac disease is now the most common immunological cause of digestive issues, it is still diagnosed rarely. One reason is because unusual symptoms are common. It’s also possible to have no symptoms at all.
Gluten – a useful protein
Gluten, also known as gluten protein, is a protein-based molecule. It can be found in a variety of crops, particularly wheat.
It functions as a binder, binding food together and giving it a “stretchy” texture—imagine a pizza maker tossing and stretching a ball of dough. The dough would simply rip if it didn’t include gluten.
Despite the tightness of the protein chains, the dough remains stretchy.
Causes of gluten intolerance
Little is known about the causes of gluten intolerance. Experts assume that genetics plays an important role, but not the only one. 30 to 40 percent of affected celiac patients have a genetic predisposition, which is now considered a prerequisite for intolerance. People who are predisposed in this way carry protein cells that attach themselves to certain immune cells, which then promote gluten intolerance. Therefore, first- and second-degree relatives have a significantly higher risk of developing gluten intolerance than those who are not.
In healthy people, the small intestine digests food and breaks it down into components. All usable nutrients are then released into the bloodstream via the mucous membrane of the small intestine. If celiac disease patients eat gluten, they risk inflammation of the intestinal mucosa. This limits nutrient intake.
Symptoms differ in young and old
The symptoms of celiac disease are often different from sufferer to the sufferer and also differ according to their age.
In children and adolescents, the following signs often indicate celiac disease:
- loss of appetite
- flatulence (meteorism)
- developmental disabilities
- difficulty concentrating
- Loss of previously learned movements
In adulthood, the following symptoms are typical:
- irregular bowel movements
- body aches
- Deficiency symptoms of vitamins (B12 and D), iron and calcium
The later a gluten intolerance occurs, the more atypical the symptoms are. Sometimes symptoms appear for months or not at all.
Antibodies and small intestine biopsy provide information about celiac disease
If there is a suspicion of gluten intolerance, various diagnostic procedures are possible. A first important step in diagnostics is the detection of certain antibodies of the protein building block gliadin. The body forms these when it perceives gluten as harmful. If the test is positive, a tissue sample (biopsy) of the mucous membrane of the small intestine is useful in order to be able to make a definitive diagnosis.
In the case of children and adolescents, it is not absolutely necessary to take a sample if the number of antibodies is already above average. To determine this, the doctor takes small samples from several places, which are then checked for the frequency of inflammatory cells. It also measures intestinal villi length, since gluten intolerant people have shorter or barely detectable villi compared to healthy people.
Far-reaching complications are possible
If gluten intolerance is not treated, misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all, it can happen. In addition to the significant lack of nutrients, especially iron, developmental disorders can occur. Women are at risk of gynecological complications, including menstrual disorders and infertility. Chronic inflammation of the intestinal mucosa can also lead to colon cancer.
In fact, only one therapy makes sense – alternative products provide help
The currently only reliable method of alleviating or eliminating the symptoms of celiac disease is to consistently and permanently avoid foods containing gluten. If you follow a gluten-free diet, the intestinal mucosa regenerates quickly, the inflammation subsides and new intestinal villiform can again absorb nutrients unhindered.
Those affected should note that even if they are symptom-free, it is advisable to avoid products containing gluten. On the one hand, the intestine regenerates quickly, on the other hand, inflammation of the intestinal mucosa flares up again just as quickly.
To alleviate the symptoms, celiac disease patients should avoid these cereals containing gluten:
These gluten-containing cereals are mainly found in bread, pasta, muesli and beer. However, care should be taken when changing your diet. Products that appear gluten-free at first glance may still contain gluten.
This applies in particular to industrially produced foods in which gluten-containing ingredients are often used as binding agents.
A look at the packaging helps: Gluten must be marked as an allergen there.
Image Credit: Getty
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