Celiac disease is a condition where the absorptive surfaces of the small intestine are damaged by the protein gluten. This damage prevents the body from absorbing nutrients from the foods you eat. Gluten is mainly found in wheat, but is also found in other grains such as barley, rye, oats and spelt. Evaluation for celiac disease includes an initial screening blood test . If this test is positive then a biopsy is taken of the small intestine for a true diagnosis. It is estimated that 1/133 Canadians are affected by celiac disease (that’s around 75 people in our community of Lake Bonavista!).
There is also a portion of the population that suffers from digestive or other health issues when they eat gluten. Although they feel better on a gluten-free (GF) diet, there is no damage to the small intestine. There is growing awareness of this condition and it is referred to as non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
The most reliable way to determine if you are sensitive to gluten is to cut all gluten out of your diet for a minimum of 4-6 weeks and keep a diary of your symptoms. However, if you’re eating something other than gluten that’s aggravating your symptoms it may affect your results. The elimination diet is a diet that removes gluten in addition to other common food triggers and can give you clearer results than just removing gluten on it’s own.
If you want answers more quickly and you don’t mind paying out of pocket, you can also have a non-conventional blood test done to identify a sensitivity to gluten (in addition to a variety of other foods). This test looks at a different marker in the blood compared to the blood test for celiac disease.
If you suspect you have celiac disease, consult with your health care provider prior to starting a GF diet as this diet can cause false negative results GF does not equal healthy – most processed GF products are full of additives and sugars and are high on the glycemic index. Read labels closely and consult with your healthcare provider to see if a GF diet is the right fit for you. GF products are often much more expensive than non-GF counterparts. Read labels carefully – if it doesn’t specifically say gluten free, gluten is likely hidden in that list of ingredients.
No matter what kind of diet you follow, make sure to base the diet around whole foods, lots of colorful fruits and vegetables and minimize any processed, pre-packaged foods!
Dr. Tricia Breckon, BSc MA ND
July 19, 2018
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