I’ve been looking forward to writing you today about this topic. Not only because I personally went through a long journey to discover I was sensitive to gluten, but because it’s amazing how many times clients, friends, and people I meet have lately been asking me about it. They all want to know if the gluten-free movement is really just a fad or if there is really something to it. Have you also been wondering about this, or how you could find out whether the gluten-free diet was for you?
I’m here to tell you today that the gluten free diet is here to stay.
Yes, it’s definitely trendy right now to give the gluten-free diet a shot, but all the buzz and interest around avoiding this food has come up because a lot of really good science supporting it. The research shows how common it is for people to have a problem with digesting gluten.
A few weeks ago I attended the Integrated Healthcare Symposium here in New York. The conference brought together some of the national leaders in integrative medicine, including Dr. David Purlmutter, an acclaimed integrative neurologist. In his presentation on gluten and brain health, his review of research found the prevalence of gluten sensitivity to be between 30-40%!
And, according to the University of Chicago, the rate of celiac disease is 1:133 for healthy people. That’s almost 2 people on every crowded NYC subway car. And, if you have a first degree relative diagnosed with the disease, your chances go up to 1:39. Woah!
What Exactly IS Gluten?
Gluten is a group of proteins that are in many different grains, including wheat, rye, barley, spelt and kamut among others. This means that even if you’re on a “wheat free” diet, you could be exposed to gluten by eating other grains that contain it.
What Is The Difference Between Being Celiac And Gluten Sensitive?
Celiac disease is a specific diagnosis that relates to an auto-immune reaction your body has to gluten. If you have celiac disease your immune system over-reacts to gluten in your digestive tract and creates inflammation. Eventually, this inflammation damages the lining of your gut and ruins it’s ability to absorb all the great nutrients you’re eating. The classic symptoms of celiac disease are:
- Abdominal bloating
- Abdominal cramping
- Unexplained weight loss
Those are pretty common symptoms, but don’t worry, celiac disease is not always the cause of digestive issues like this. If you have ongoing digestive symptoms like those listed above and a family history of it, the best way to explore whether you have celiac disease is to ask your medical doctor about it. There are specific blood tests they can run to screen you. And if you are diagnosed with celiac disease, the great news is that the digestive tract restores almost completely once you avoid gluten and go through a healing process with the support of natural therapies.
On the other hand, finding out if you’re gluten sensitive is usually a little more experiential than having a few blood tests done. Rather than being linked to a specific auto-immune reaction in your gut, gluten sensitivity can relate to many different ways your body responds to the proteins in gluten. Typically, the symptoms include those of celiac but there is also a strong showing of symptoms outside the digestive system.
Some symptoms of gluten sensitivity include:
- Digestive upset
- Mood or behavioral changes
- Eczema or rashes
- Joint pain
- Etc… The possibilities are endless because you are completely unique and so is the way your body responds to your environment.
How To Find Out If You’re Sensitive To Gluten
The easiest way to find out if you’re sensitive to gluten is through the food elimination & challenge test:
- Eliminate – remove gluten from your diet for 3-6 weeks, depending on how long it takes for your symptoms to clear.
- Challenge – after the elimination period, re-expose your body to gluten by eating it 2-3 times a day for 3 days in a row. Of course, if you have a strong reaction to it on day 1 there is no need to keep eating it.
- Record symptoms during the challenge phase – these can be anything from mood and energy changes to digestive, skin, and other reactions. If you notice symptoms when you bring gluten back into your diet, it’s a sign that a gluten-free diet may be a good fit for you. If you don’t experience any symptoms, chances are you don’t need to be on a gluten free diet.
This is exactly how I explored a variety of foods with the support of my own naturopathic doctor long ago and found out I was gluten sensitive. Through this discovery, I’ve personally experienced the BIG shifts in overall wellbeing from finding out which foods worked, and didn’t work, for me.
I encourage you to explore this for yourself or contact me if you’d like some extra support and care in preparing for and moving through the experience to test out gluten or any other foods you might be sensitive to.
All the best,