Recently, I’ve been hearing a lot about the presence of gluten in food. I’ve even noticed that a number of restaurants in Chicago are offering gluten-free options. All this talk about gluten-free has me wondering: what is gluten and why is everyone trying to avoid it? Truth is, steering clear of gluten is the best way to treat the immune reaction known as celiac disease.

Gluten is the mixture of proteins that are found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. Celiac disease is a reaction that is triggered by the presence of gluten in the small intestine. If the disease is not properly treated, inflammation will occur within your body, and you won’t be able to absorb a number of nutrients needed to survive. There is no cure for celiac disease, but there are ways to avoid irritation.

Symptoms

The first step in treating celiac disease is knowing how to detect it. While many signs are obvious, some people with the disease don’t notice a change, which is why it is important to be attentive to your body at all times. The classic signs of celiac include diarrhea, weight loss and other digestive complications. Studies show that twenty percent of people with celiac disease have constipation, while ten percent are obese. Other signs to look for include:

  • Anemia, which is the decrease of red blood cells in your body
  • Loss or softening of bone density, also known as osteoporosis and osteomalacia
  • Headaches and fatigue
  • Painful or stiff joints
  • Irritating skin rashes
  • Numbness or tingling sensations in the hands and feet
  • Problems with balance
  • Acid reflux and heartburn

When to See a Doctor

Because there are a wide variety of symptoms of celiac disease, it may be hard to detect what is wrong and whether or not you should pursue a gluten-free diet. If you have diarrhea or experience digestive problems for over two weeks, alert your physician.  He or she can confirm what is best for your body, as well as whether or not you should give gluten-free a try. Remember to always speak to your doctor first before beginning or ending a diet. It is also important to remember that celiac disease often runs in the family. So, if you are diagnosed with the disease, be sure to alert other family members so that they can be checked for celiac.

Treatment

If you are diagnosed with celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is often the only treatment available. Going gluten-free can be tricky, so it is important to understand what foods contain gluten. Aside from wheat products, other foods that contain gluten include:

  • Barley
  • Bulgur
  • Durum
  • Farina
  • Graham flour
  • Malt
  • Rye
  • Semolina
  • Triticale

Once you cut gluten from your diet, you can expect to feel better within a number of weeks, as the inflammation in your smaller intestine will have gone down. If you find that you have consumed gluten unknowingly or on accident, don’t panic. You may experience abdominal pain or fatigue, but it will disappear if you continue on your gluten-free diet. The good news is that non-gluten products and meal options are becoming more and more popular in today’s world.

Going Gluten-Free

Avoiding gluten may not be as hard as you think. Foods that you can enjoy without consuming gluten include fresh meats, fish, poultry, fruits, vegetables and most dairy products. More importantly, here are a list of grains and starches that are surprisingly allowed in a gluten-free diet:

  • Buckwheat
  • Corn
  • Cornmeal
  • Gluten-free flours, such as rice, soy, potato and bean
  • Pure corn tortillas
  • Quinoa
  • Rice
  • Tapioca

If you’re a bread and pasta lover, rest assured that there are a number of gluten-free products becoming widely popular today. Look at your local grocery store to find gluten-free treats to enjoy!

Sources:
http://www.celiac.com/categories/Celiac-Disease/

Melanie Marzillo
Research & Community Education

Chicago Skilled Nursing
Chicago Senior Living