Q. Should Healthy People Go Gluten-Free?
The fact that the term ‘gluten-free’ is thrown around so liberally these days can make it difficult to know what gluten intolerance is all about.
On one hand, there is no reason to suggest that those who can tolerate gluten perfectly adequately could benefit from eliminating gluten from their diets. Unless excluding gluten is necessary, it is not something nutritionists typically recommend.
Q. How Many People Are Gluten Intolerant?
At the same time, it is estimated that up to 80% of all cases of gluten intolerance are undiagnosed. In which case, millions could be living with a sensitivity to gluten they are entirely unaware of.
Q. What Is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is a particularly severe form of gluten intolerance. More accurately, it is a serious and debilitating genetic autoimmune disease, wherein the consumption of gluten causes severe damage to the small intestine.
Ensuring celiac disease is diagnosed at the earliest possible stage is of the utmost importance, in order to ensure the necessary dietary changes are applied.
Q. What Is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in rye, barley and wheat. It is therefore present in any and all food products that contain these ingredients in varying quantities.
Q. What Symptoms Does Celiac Disease Cause?
To date, scientists have identified more than 200 different symptoms associated with celiac disease. This is one of the reasons why it is often misdiagnosed or goes undiagnosed for considerable periods of time.
That said, most cases of celiac disease cause a degree of gastrointestinal pain and discomfort when gluten is consumed. In addition, the malabsorption of nutrients associated with celiac disease can result in chronic fatigue, weight loss, migraines, anaemia and other nutrient deficiencies.
Q. What Is The Cause Of Celiac Disease?
Nobody really knows what causes celiac disease, but there are various potential triggers and risk factors that have been identified in studies. For example, some people are known to have a genetic predisposition to celiac disease, while certain environmental triggers can increase a person’s risk of developing the condition.
Examples of the latter include when and in what quantities gluten is introduced to their diet as a child, though further research is needed to draw direct links between environmental factors and celiac disease risk.
Q. How Do Doctors Diagnose Celiac Disease?
Most people with a gluten intolerance only consult with doctors when their condition has become particularly problematic. Nevertheless, the early detection holds the key to successful treatment and the avoidance of more severe issues related to gluten intolerance.
Diagnosing celiac disease involves a simple blood test, after which an endoscopic biopsy may be performed to confirm the diagnosis.
Q. What If I Have A Family History Of Celiac Disease?
Estimates vary, but some studies suggest that up to one in every three people may have a family history (i.e. genetic predisposition) to celiac disease. Though in most instances, the vast majority of those concerned will not develop the disease or experience any symptoms associated with gluten intolerance.
Nevertheless, anyone who is aware of their genetic predisposition to celiac disease should organise a blood test every few years. This is to ensure that if the condition does begin to manifest, it can be addressed at the earliest possible stage before causing any damage to the body.
It is important never to take chances or wait too long with a condition as potentially serious as celiac disease.
Q. What Does “Gluten-Free” Really Mean On A Product Label?
In the UK, there is very specific and strict legislation with regard to what can and cannot be labelled gluten-free. In order for a product to qualify as gluten-free, the law clearly states that it must contain 20 parts per million or less of gluten, which is a safe level for people with celiac disease to consume.
By contrast, anything that claims to be ‘low’ in gluten should be approached with caution, as this does not necessarily mean anything at all.
Likewise, products and ingredients purchased outside the UK that claim to be ‘gluten-free’ may not be subject to the same rules as they are at home. This is something to be mindful of when travelling - particularly when ordering menu items at restaurants that claim to be ‘gluten-free’.
Q. Can I Eat Gluten If I Have Celiac But Don’t Experience Any Symptoms?
In some instances, an individual may be diagnosed with celiac disease and yet experience no negative symptoms whatsoever. Subsequently, they may assume that the gluten they are consuming is not causing them harm, therefore no major dietary changes are necessary.
Unfortunately, the fact that you are not experiencing any symptoms does not mean that the gluten you are consuming is not causing damage to your body. Your gluten intolerance could still be causing major damage to your intestines and subsequently increasing your risk of developing a wide variety of further conditions, such as osteoporosis or cancer.
Q. If Gluten-Free Brings My Symptoms Under Control, Do I Still Need A Diagnosis?
Yes - under no circumstances should you simply assume you have celiac disease and attempt to control it through basic dietary adjustments alone.
Depending on the nature and severity of your gluten sensitivity, there may be other steps that should be taken or need to be taken for the benefit of your health. In addition, there is the possibility that the symptoms you are experiencing prior to excluding gluten were not being caused by celiac disease, but something else entirely.
Q. Are Gluten-Free Cosmetics Necessary For People With Celiac Disease?
The short answer is no, despite the fact that this is often how they are marketed. The gluten-free products sector is larger and more diverse than it has ever been, which can make it tricky to know which products you need, and which are purely optional.
If you have celiac disease, the harmful effects of the condition only occur when gluten is ingested. This in turn means that products containing gluten you use externally have no such effects. Shampoos, conditioners, soaps and cosmetics for example - gluten-free options are not necessary, unless stated otherwise by your doctor.