Coping with Gluten Intolerance
~ by Jo Jordan
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Are you gluten intolerant? You could be if you suffer with bloating, constipation and/or diarrhea, fatigue, weight gain, bone or joint pain, dental enamel defects, depression, infertility, anemia, alopecia areata (hair loss), migraines, multiple sclerosis (MS), psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, or any of the dozens of other symptoms now believed to be connected to gluten intolerance.
If you have difficulty digesting gluten – which means you have a sensitivity to wheat, rye, barley, and oats – vitamin deficiency could become a serious, long-term health problem unless you incorporate a daily multi-vitamin into your health regimen.
People with gluten intolerance and other associated malabsorption syndromes – such as celiac/coeliac disease, celiac sprue, non-tropical sprue, endemic sprue, gluten enteropathy, and gluten-sensitive enteropathy – have challenging dietary concerns.
While the best way to test for gluten intolerance is to eliminate wheat, rye, barley, and oat products from your diet, many people find this a struggle without the aid of good information about gluten substitutes.
Ultimately, getting the necessary nutrients from food intake alone is nearly impossible for most people. This problem is magnified for those with malabsorption issues, which is why a daily multi-vitamin and mineral supplement is vital for the gluten intolerant.
Gluten Intolerance is Far-reaching
While gluten has been a food staple in the Western world for hundreds of years, today the enormous scope of gluten intolerance is a health problem that cannot be underestimated.
Unfortunately, many people are unaware that the symptoms they're experiencing could be a reaction to the gluten contained in the wheat, rye, barley, and oat products they consume on a daily basis.
What is Gluten Intolerance?
While the world is just beginning to understand gluten intolerance, scientists believe it developed hundreds of years ago when our ancestors – who used to forage for nuts and meat – first introduced grains, such as wheat, into their diets. Today, approximately two million Americans suffer from celiac disease alone.1
Gluten intolerance is a malabsorption syndrome caused by a reaction to gliadin, a gluten protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats. People with gluten intolerance cannot digest this protein and, as a result, suffer from various bowel abnormalities.
The thread-like projections, known as villi, in their small intestines – normally responsible for absorbing fluids and nutrients – become flattened and deficient in digestive enzymes, severely reducing the area available for absorption of nutrients such as fat, protein, vitamins, and minerals.
One of the main reasons gluten enteropathy is so devastating is that the place in the small intestine where it wreaks the most havoc is the site where B12 is absorbed. This vitamin is critical for many cellular functions, including the body's manufacture of red blood cells, nerves, and neurotransmitters.
Who is Affected by Gluten Intolerance?
Gluten intolerance is a genetic issue to a very large extent. It is commonly, but not exclusively, connected to type O blood. While thirty-three percent of the Western world's population has type O blood, it is difficult to say just what percentage of these people will become gluten intolerant.
People with type O blood tend to be of Irish, English, and Mediterranean descent. However, people with other blood types are known to become afflicted as well.
There is some discrepancy about who/when people develop gluten intolerance. Some medical authorities claim there are two peak periods during which onset takes place. The first being infancy, between six months to two years of age, and the second is between the ages of thirty and fifty years. Women are more prone to gluten intolerance than men.
Other experts claim that onset of the disease has no age or sex restriction.
There is also disagreement about the multiple manifestations of gluten intolerance. Dr. Jesse Hanley, MD, public speaker, instructor, and co-author of Tired of Being Tired, What Your Doctor May Not Have Told You About Premenopause, Women's Passages, and Attention Deficit Disorder, believes that gluten intolerance is much more than one isolated part of the body part malfunctioning.
"It's a metabolic problem – it's your brain, your neurons, an inability to absorb, and the ensuing inflammation that travels around peoples' bodies," says Dr. Hanley. "After all, each person is one entirely complete unit, with all parts reliant on the rest of the mind and body in order to function."
While some estimates suggest that one in 133 Americans have celiac disease,2 statistics for those related to someone with celiac disease – such as a parent or sibling – are much more far-reaching; one in twenty-two will develop the disease.3
Dr. Hanley believes the figure is higher still; as many as one in thirty Americans, she says, will exhibit symptoms of gluten intolerance.
Researchers do agree that gluten intolerance often emerges after a trauma such as an infection; a physical injury; the stress of pregnancy; post surgery; or severe psychological/emotional stress brought on by divorce, death of a loved one, or job loss.
Case Study 1
'June' had reached midlife. Certain that her weight gain, exhaustion, and general listlessness meant she was in the throes of menopause, June decided to consult with her physician, Dr. Hanley.
June was sixty pounds overweight, had a rare type of lung infection, and late onset asthma when she arrived for her appointment. Dr. Hanley listened carefully to June's case history, believing that there was more to June's so-called menopausal symptoms than what appeared on the surface.
"A detailed case history going back to early childhood is crucial," explains Dr. Hanley. "Patterns often emerge which indicate that gluten intolerance has been with the person for most of their life. And to complicate things, the pattern of symptoms often changes as we mature."
As a child, June reported, she had had chronic sore throats and endless ear infections. For many years as an adult, June had been unable to breathe properly, and was living on asthma medication. By the time she saw Dr. Hanley, she had developed a rare, incurable form of tuberculosis (TB).
Dr. Hanley suggested that June eliminate gluten products and cow's milk for one month. Thirty days later, June turned up at Dr. Hanley's office an entirely changed person; she could walk and breathe with ease, and she was quickly losing weight. Lab tests showed that June's so-called incurable lung disease, as well as her asthma, had completely disappeared.
Case Study 2
'Jim' was a forty-something schoolteacher who had had migraine headaches for as long as he could remember. He also suffered from GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), and was totally reliant on prescription drugs for this ailment.
Having miraculously overcome HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), Jim was unable to appreciate his victory because he was constantly plagued with intestinal discomfort and massive headaches.
Jim had tried everything under the sun for his persistent migraines; chiropractic adjustments didn't work, nor did acupuncture, prescription pain killers, or herbal therapies. Finally, he made an appointment with Dr. Hanley.
"When Jim told me that as a baby he had failed to thrive, I knew we were getting somewhere," says Dr. Hanley. "He had had diarrhea as an infant, and was literally dying when his physician had suggested the elimination gluten from Jim's diet to his parents."
"There is a common misconception that children outgrow allergies, and this is simply not true," explains Dr. Hanley. "You may outgrow the symptom, but then you get another symptom in its place. Often it is difficult to recognize gluten intolerance because the symptoms are similar to those of dozens of other common ailments.
Jim hadn't realized the gluten problem that had plagued him as a child – and resolved itself after five gluten-free years – was rearing its ugly head three decades later with entirely different symptoms. Celiac disease – known as failure to thrive in infants – often comes back with a vengeance in midlife. In Jim's case, his brain, bowels, and immune system had all been devastated by gluten intolerance.
Dr. Hanley suggested that Jim stop eating gluten. Within ten days his headaches had ceased, and his GERD symptoms had completely disappeared. Once his body had been completely purged of gluten, Jim could tell in an instant if there was gluten in any food product he encountered...he became a living, breathing gluten detector.
Case Study 3
Nancy had suffered for five years with IBS-like symptoms (irritable bowel syndrome), without knowing what was wrong. With frantic runs to the bathroom up to eighteen times a day, she had become fearful of eating, and lost sixteen pounds.
Dr. Hanley suggested that Nancy go gluten-free, incorporate l-glutamine to heal her ravaged intestines, and Advanced Supplementation to get her energy back. Nancy is now in control, no longer humiliated by embarrassing accidents. Here's what she shared about the help she received from Puristat.
"My intestines were sore all the time, just plain raw, as though they were full of holes!"
"I've had a terrible time with IBS-like symptoms for the last five or six years. If I had to go to the bathroom, I HAD TO GO, and you had better get out of my way. Many times, I wouldn't make it and I'd have an embarrassing accident."
"I was going sixteen to eighteen times a day. I lost sixteen pounds because I had gotten to the point where I was afraid to eat...everything was going right through me. I'd cramp up, and have to go IMMEDIATELY. My intestine felt as though it had holes in it. I had a lot of gas. Even when I went to the bathroom, I had noisy gas, and my intestines felt raw. I had no energy or ambition. I felt weak. My stomach was sore all the time."
"I didn't even go out for Christmas dinner because I was afraid to leave the house or eat. My husband was concerned because nobody seemed to know what was wrong with me and, you know, he's a guy...he just wanted to fix it."
"One doctor said it was IBS, and there was nothing I could do about it. But I got in touch with Dr. Jesse Hanley, and she wasn't convinced it was IBS. She suggested I may have gluten intolerance, and encouraged me to try cutting out all gluten products."
"Going gluten-free helped the symptoms subside. It hasn't gone away completely, but I'm down to three trips to the bathroom each day. Now, when I eat gluten, I get cramps and gas, and I have to get to the bathroom quickly. If I went back to eating the way I was, I know I'd be back up to eighteen trips a day."
"Dr. Hanley has helped me immensely with my gastrointestinal problems. She also suggested I take l-glutamine to heal my tender intestines. And I'm taking Advanced Supplementation...after three weeks I noticed the difference. I'm sixty-seven, and I used to lie down for an hour and a half every afternoon, but since I've been taking multi-vitamins, I lie down and end up saying, 'What am I doing? I don't need to do this anymore,' and I get right back up!"
"My family doctor had started me off with Immonium AD, three per day. Now, I only take one if we're going out to dinner, so I won't be uncomfortable. I gave up caffeine and carbonated beverages, and we don't eat any meat – or other foods – containing preservatives anymore. There's no junk or force feeding with organic animals...even the grain they eat is healthy. We've gone completely organic, and I've noticed a real difference in how I feel."
"I'd like to tell others, when you go to the doctor they just want to push you onto another pill. Go to a nutritionist instead, and find out what's good and healthy to eat. And stop taking all these pills they give you prescriptions for."
"Take a multi-vitamin everyday. I strongly believe that with the preservatives, bug sprays, and everything, we're not getting the vitamins from our food that we need. If I'm getting a tomato in Maine that was picked ten days ago in Florida, where is the nutrition in that?"
"And read every label! Personally, I don't want to eat stuff without knowing what's in it. I want a healthy old age, I don't want a sickly old age, so I'm doing everything I can to make it happen!"
The Puristat Medical Team loves hearing the success that people are experiencing with our products. Of course, success stories reflect an individual's results. Results do vary and are not necessarily representative of all of those who will use our products. Our next success story could come from you!
Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance
There are dozens, possibly hundreds, of gluten intolerance symptoms. Unfortunately, no one symptom is specifically characteristic of this common ailment. The majority of people with gluten intolerance (and celiac disease) have intestinal symptoms as well as many others. Common manifestations include4:
- Bone, joint, muscle pain
- Delayed/disrupted menstrual cycles (amenorrhea/delayed menarche)
- Dental enamel hypoplasia (enamel defects)
- Gastrointestinal distress (gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, reflux)
- Headaches (including migraines)
- Inability to concentrate
- Moodiness, depression
- Mouth sores
- Short stature
- Tingling numbness in the legs
- Weight loss/gain
Other Conditions Associated with Gluten Intolerance
While gluten intolerance is largely hereditary, its prevalence is being exacerbated by the enormous problem of over processing and hybridization of refined grains.
Combined with issues such as the plastics now being found in common products like pizza dough, and all the chemicals used by the large agricultural corporations, it becomes clear why the human body sometimes reacts with an allergic reaction to common food.
Not everyone is negatively affected by eating whole grains, but for those who are truly allergic and cannot digest gluten/gliadin properly, the damaging health effects begin in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to detect, or even to study, reactions taking place in the small intestine.
One thing is for certain; almost everyone eats too much refined wheat – the main source of gluten – and the list of symptoms associated with gluten intolerance continues to grow.
Symptoms may also include:
- Abnormal liver test
- Addison's disease
- Alopecia (hair loss)
- Ataxia (loss of coordination)
- Autoimmune hepatitis
- Chronic abdominal pain
- Chronic fatigue
- Crohn's disease
- Dermatitis herpetiformis (itchy skin sores)
- Down syndrome
- Family history of celiac disease
- Gall bladder disease
- GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
- Total IgA (blood immunoglobulin) deficiency
- Insulin-dependent diabetes (type 1)
- Infertility, spontaneous abortions, low birth-weight babies
- Iron deficiency
- IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
- Lactose intolerance
- Multiple sclerosis
- Non Hodgkin's lymphoma
- Osteoporosis, osteopenia, osteomalacia
- Pancreatic disorders
- Pathologic fractures
- Peripheral neuropathy (nervous system disorder)
- Primary biliary cirrhosis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Scherosing cholangitis (bile duct inflammation)
- Sjögren's syndrome
- Systemic lupus
- Turner syndrome
- Ulcerative colitis
- Vitiligo (white skin patches)
While there hasn't been a great deal written about it, the fact that liver abnormalities are found in a high percentage – forty-two percent, according to some studies10 – of those with celiac disease is worth considering.
Elevated liver enzymes are an effect of enzymes released by damaged liver cells. But one study notes that in ninety-five percent11 of patients, a complete normalization of liver chemistry tests resulted following a gluten-free diet maintained for between one and ten years.
In addition, serious liver disorders – such as cirrhosis – are associated with a number of celiac disease cases. Interestingly, these disorders seem to resolve themselves when sufferers implement and maintain a gluten-free diet.
Note that dormant or mild celiac disease may be responsible for the symptoms experienced by some who are believed to have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Diagnosing and Treating Gluten Intolerance
The most effective test is one you can complete yourself. Because it is very difficult to detect reactions taking place in the small intestine, medical tests are ineffective and unreliable to a large degree. Your own body is the best laboratory; the only sure way to confirm gluten intolerance is to stop eating it.
Removing the potential offender is cost effective, and works most of the time. There are, however, specific blood tests to diagnose gluten intolerance in those who have very mild signs or no symptoms at all.
A biopsy from the small intestine is also used for diagnosis. It may show a surface flattening of the villi. Later, a diagnosis can be made if improvement is shown on a repeat biopsy after a trial gluten-free diet. It is, however, a difficult test to perform; it is uncomfortable, expensive, and has some accompanying risks.
Most often, the best way to determine whether or not you are gluten intolerant is to eliminate gluten from your diet for a two-week period – and actually feel the effects.
Three Steps and Eight Weeks to a Pain-free Life
Step 1: Food Limiting – Implementing a Gluten-free Diet
If you have a gluten allergy, when you ingest wheat, rye, barley, or oats your gut will become irritated, and your immune system functioning will turn to dealing with the gluten. Rather than focusing on your immune system, your system will be fighting off a perceived attack.
Further, your system will take the information about the irritant, and spread it throughout your entire body – to your joints, or your brain, where it can manifest as multiple sclerosis, or a myriad of other unpleasant illnesses.
In short, the allergy can go anywhere in your body capable of having an autoimmune response. Remember, if you are gluten intolerant, your system interprets the ingestion of wheat, rye, barley, and oat products similar to how it would respond to any invasion: with inflammation.
But miracles really can and do happen when you alter your diet to suit your body's changing needs. If you believe you may have gluten intolerance, begin by removing gluten-containing foods [link to sub-article on foods to avoid and alternatives] from your diet, and monitor your responses. Rest assured that there are many wonderful alternatives to wheat, rye, barley, and oats [link to sub-article on foods to avoid and alternatives].
The good news is that between fifty5 and ninety percent6 of gluten intolerant people who choose to implement a gluten-free approach respond very positively when they eliminate gluten from their diets. Many people report feeling better in just one or two weeks. Often, all symptoms disappear within six to eight weeks.7
Step 2: A Daily Multi-vitamin
Once the irritant is removed, care and repair of the body is essential. Many with gluten intolerance suffer from greatly reduced intake of nutrients in their diets. They may skip meals when they are feeling unwell, and the damaging results of gluten on their intestines affects nutrient absorption.
For this reason, people with gluten intolerance ought to supplement their diets with a high-quality, easy-to-absorb multi-vitamin – taken with food – to ensure adequate nutrient intake. Puristat's Advanced Supplementation includes calcium and vitamin D, and is especially helpful for those who are also struggling with osteoporosis.
In addition, your body may have become weakened by its struggle with gluten intolerance, and you may have become especially sensitive, and more intolerant, to processed foods. Some people experience bouts of diarrhea. For others, there is an overall, negative cumulative effect. Many people develop secondary lactose intolerance as a result of dealing with gluten intolerance.
However, once wheat, rye, barley, and oats are omitted, and the bowel begins to heal, lactase – the enzyme that breaks down lactose – usually returns to an adequate level, and the lactose intolerance disappears.8
L-glutamine is a powerful restorative, an amino acid known to work wonders at healing the bowel. Aloe vera is also recommended for bowel repair. In the meantime, it's important to ensure your body is getting all the nutrients it needs, as well as ensuring regular bowel movements.
Step 3: Digestive Enzymes
If you are struggling with gluten intolerance, malabsorption occurs because the cells can no longer absorb nutrients properly. A digestive enzyme supplement may prove helpful since your body may have become deficient in digestive enzymes.
It is important to define two categories of gluten intolerance in order to understand how the illness is affected by enzyme action in the gut.9
Celiac sprue is an autoimmune condition, a genetic inflammatory disorder of the small intestine. When gluten proteins break down during digestion, they fragment. These protein fragments are called peptides.
In celiac sufferers, an inappropriate immune system response in the small intestine is initiated by one type of peptide, and the intestinal cells are damaged.
A second type of gluten intolerance results when the gut is injured by something other than celiac disease – the negative effect of a bacteria or yeast infection, for example, resulting in the loss of the intestinal enzymes which in turn leads to poor gluten digestion.
Using specific enzymes can be effective in minimizing the need for a gluten-free diet for those with gluten intolerance due to gut injury.
While supplementing with enzymes can be beneficial to celiac sufferers, they must remain gluten-free because the damage to their intestines is caused by the gluten fragments, rather than as a result of injury.
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1. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, "How common is celiac disease?" http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/celiac/ (accessed April 23, 2007).
2. Mayo Clinic medical information and tools for healthy living, "Celiac disease: Causes,"
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/celiac-disease/DS00319/DSECTION=3 (accessed April 23, 2007).
4. Gluten Freedom, "Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance,"
http://www.glutenfreedom.net/page.aspx?itemid=38 (accessed April 30, 2007).
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http://health.iafrica.com/dietonline/allergies/28714.htm (accessed April 26, 2007).
6. Dr. Bruno Salena, Ontario Association of Gastroenterology, "Questions and Answers," http://www.gastro.on.ca/patientinfo/patientinfo.htm#1 (accessed April 26, 2007).
8. iafrica.com, "Allergies: Diet for gluten intolerance," May 30, 2000
http://health.iafrica.com/dietonline/allergies/28714.htm (accessed April 26, 2007).
9. Enzyme Stuff: the wonderful world of digestive enzymes, "Gluten: Biological Information," January 15, 2007
http://www.enzymestuff.com/rtgluten.htm (accessed April 27, 2007).
10. Roy Jamron, "Liver Damage, Celiac Disease and the Intestinal Mucosa," Celiac.com, http://www.celiac.com/articles/1010/1/Liver-Damage-Celiac-Disease-
and-the-Intestinal-Mucosa-by-Roy-Jamron/Page1.html (accessed November 9, 2007).