When you Google “gluten-free,” you get roughly 2 billion results. Back in 2017, the number was around 150,000,000. Suffice to say, the gluten-free diet is trending.
The topic of whether to go gluten-free has been popular for some time. Chances are you know at least a few people who have cut gluten from their diet, and at some point, were probably wondering: Should I go gluten-free? Do they know something that I don’t?
In this post, we help break these questions down for you!
First, it’s important to distinguish between a gluten sensitivity and celiac disease.
While a test can help identify whether or not you have celiac, the only surefire way to know if you have a sensitivity is by eliminating gluten from your diet completely, and seeing how your body responds after gradually reintroducing it back in.
There are also different types of gluten sensitivities, which can have different OR similar symptoms—and it’s often much more than just a stomach ache.
For example, Allergy Amulet’s CMO, Meg, notices eczema flairs as her leading symptom after ingesting gluten (she has a gluten intolerance, not celiac disease).
Here’s a breakdown of the different ways gluten can affect the body, so you can better determine whether you might have celiac disease, a gluten intolerance, or neither (and how to tell the difference.)!
01. GLUTEN IS A BIG PROBLEM FOR YOU (i.e. CELIAC DISEASE)
Celiac disease is on the rise. The condition is also called celiac sprue, coeliac, and gluten-sensitive enteropathy. Once considered rare, celiac now affects 2 million people in the United States (1 in 133 Americans), and approximately 1% of the population worldwide. Celiac disease is a serious genetic autoimmune disease where the ingestion of gluten damages villi in the small intestine, making it hard for the small intestine to absorb nutrients from foods.
Many physicians believe it is a grossly undiagnosed disease, and some doctors now regularly screen anyone with severe digestive complaints for the troubling illness. It’s important to understand that celiac CANNOT cause anaphylaxis—a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction—unlike a wheat allergy, for example. People will not die from the immediate symptoms of celiac disease. However, left untreated, it can lead to several other conditions, some of which can be fatal.
Common Symptoms: Diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, bloating and gas, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, and constipation.
Associated Symptoms & Conditions: Anemia, loss of bone density, skin rash, mouth ulcers, headaches and fatigue, nervous system injury, joint pain, and spleen dysfunction.
Diagnosis: To diagnose celiac disease, your doctor will likely administer a blood test called a Tissue Transglutaminase Antibodies (tTG-IgA), and you must have gluten in your system at the time of the test—if you’re on a gluten-free diet, the test may produce false-negative results. This test is approximately 98% accurate in patients with celiac disease. There’s a series of other available tests or intestinal biopsy options that may be performed as well, depending on the tTG-IgA test results, and your doctor’s methodology.
Strict gluten elimination is essential with celiac disease, even if you are not experiencing symptoms!
02. YOU DON’T HAVE CELIAC DISEASE, BUT SOMETHING IS WAY OFF (i.e. GLUTEN INTOLERANCE/SENSITIVITY)
Many people experience symptoms akin to those of celiac disease but receive negative tTG-IgA test results and intestinal biopsies report no tissue damage. It’s estimated that up to 6% of Americans have a non-celiac gluten sensitivity. It’s unclear what the underlying cause is of a gluten intolerance, and is often diagnosed based on a patient’s response to a gluten-free diet.
Common Symptoms: Often the same as celiac, and primarily digestive distress.
Dietary Recommendations: Your best bet may be to try an elimination diet. Determining if you’re gluten-sensitive is just as important as determining if you have celiac disease because, over time, both can compromise the integrity of your gut.
Gastrointestinal health is increasingly being understood as the cornerstone of optimal health, with increasing evidence that it plays a major role in hormone balance, mood, cognitive function, and other critical aspects of overall health and wellbeing.
03. GLUTEN DOESN’T MAKE YOU FEEL TOO SEXY
For those who don’t have celiac disease or a diagnosed intolerance, you may just not feel so hot after you eat gluten-containing foods. Low energy, less endurance, and overall “slowness” are common words used to describe these feelings. By removing gluten from your diet, many in this category see a positive change in their mood, energy, and appearance!
Common symptoms: Digestive distress, fatigue, energy loss, and overall blah.
Dietary Recommendations: Try eliminating gluten from your diet for a couple of months. Why? Gluten is pesky and can linger in the bloodstream for a long time. Add it back into your diet gradually over time and see how you feel.
Cutting out gluten usually means eliminating a lot of processed and fast food. This can make it hard to determine if it was the gluten or just the crummy food. One way to control for this is to eat healthy sources of gluten: wheat berries, farro, and couscous are just a handful of healthy, gluten-filled whole grains. It’s also worth noting not all gluten-free foods are necessarily healthier—many are laden with added sugars and fats to improve flavor.
04. GLUTEN AIN’T NO THANG
You feel absolutely fine when you eat gluten. No cramping or chronic side effects. Perhaps you have headaches, digestive issues, or some joint pain. You’ve tried going gluten-free for a couple months and noticed zero difference. You’re realizing maybe something else is to blame.
TO SUM IT ALL UP
The facts tell the story—being gluten-free is not a fad, it’s here to stay. It can be a major dietary adjustment, so it’s good to know if gluten is the true culprit, or if something else is the source of your symptoms.
SO, what do you think?
We hope this information helps guide you in making the decision of whether to try going gluten-free. Ultimately, the best way to find out whether a gluten-free diet is right for you is to remove it from your diet, then gauge how your body responds upon reintroduction. And it’s always a good idea to lean on medical experts to guide you through the discovery process.
— The Allergy Amulet Team
This post was adapted from a previous Allergy Amulet post by contributing author Megan Morris. Megan is a certified nutritionist, and former Co-Founder & CEO of Prescribe Nutrition.
The Allergy Amulet Team