Gluten free diets – Are they necessary?

Even though gluten free foods and diets are gaining popularity, experts recommend consulting with your doctor before eliminating gluten from your diet.

Gluten free products seem to be more popular now than ever. A rising number of people seem to be adopting a gluten free diet based on what they’re reading on the internet versus scientific support. But is eliminating gluten really necessary?

According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder triggered by consuming a protein called gluten. This protein interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food and can damage the small intestine. There are no medications or surgeries that can cure this autoimmune disease – the only treatment is a gluten free diet, which means eliminating popular foods that contain wheat, rye or barley.

There are over 300 symptoms associated with celiac disease, and according to Mayo Clinic they can vary greatly. Besides digestive problems like bloating, diarrhea and constipation, other signs of celiac disease may include:

  • Anemia, usually resulting from iron deficiency
  • Loss of bone density (osteoporosis) or softening of bone (osteomalacia)
  • Itchy, blistery skin rash
  • Damage to dental enamel
  • Headaches and fatigue
  • Nervous system injury, numbness and tingling in feet and hands or problems with balance
  • Joint pain
  • Reduced functioning of spleen
  • Acid reflux and heartburn

The only way to determine if you have celiac disease is to consult with a physician. Antibody blood tests, in combination with a genetic testing will help detect whether or not celiac disease is suspected – a small intestinal biopsy can confirm diagnosis. Michigan State University Extension recommends consulting your doctor before trying a gluten free diet, because the elimination of gluten prior to being tested can affect test results. Post test results may lead your doctor to explore other digestive health issues such as food allergies or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

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