Some cereal grains such as wheat, barley and rye contain a mixture of proteins called gluten. It is the elasticity substance in these grains that forms when flour is mixed with water to form dough. Many adults and children have an autoimmune deficiency known as celiac disease and cannot tolerate gluten. Consumption of gluten results in gastrointestinal problems such as pain, fatigue, and malnutrition for these individuals. Treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet. The disease is diagnosed by a blood test.
One in 133 Americans test positive for celiac disease. It may be a good idea to be tested if you are experiencing diarrhea, malnutrition, weight loss or nutrient deficiencies. Although weight loss is a symptom, a number of patients diagnosed with celiac disease are obese. While mostly people of Northern European descent test positive for the disease, members of the Hispanic, Asian and African-American population have tested positive for the disease as well. It affects the villi in the lamina propria and crypt regions of the intestines. Some celiac patients experience bloating, chronic diarrhea, weakness, bone pain and aphthous stomatitis.
Some people test negative for celiac disease, yet have gastrointestinal problems after consuming gluten products. These individuals often describe a "foggy mind" or present with other behavioral issues after eating foods with gluten. This immune response is diagnosed as gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity. The symptoms improve dramatically when gluten is removed from the patient's diet.
The chances of gastrointestinal cancer rises sharply in patients with celiac disease or gluten intolerance that continue to eat food products containing gluten. Duodenal and jejunal small intestinal biopsies have proved to be a helpful tool to diagnose and as a follow-up for patients with celiac disease. Scientists are studying the goblet cells that line the intestines and secrete mucous as a future treatment solution for celiac disease. Researchers are currently studying the connection of psoriasis and people with celiac disease.
There is no medical evidence that gluten is harmful to individuals that do not have celiac disease or gluten intolerance. However, a number of athletes, people trying to lose weight or live a healthier lifestyle are selecting gluten-free products. For these individuals a gluten-free diet is a personal lifestyle choice. All individuals selecting a gluten-free diet should find alternative food replacements for the fiber, minerals and vitamins found in wheat products.
Royalty-free pic courtesy of spiderpic.com.