Symptoms & Treatment for Gluten Sensitivity & Celiac Disease

By Joanna Schaffler, RD, CDN, MS

Feeling bloated, overweight, fatigued, or can’t concentrate? All of these problems have been linked with eating gluten, but is there validity to this claim? The answer may be more complicated than you think. . .

What is Celiac disease?

Some people suffer from a condition called Celiac disease, or CD for short, which is an autoimmune problem that is found in about 1% of people in the U.S. For these people, gluten isn’t a friend. What’s worse is that CD has no cure. The only management tool for patients suffering from the health issue is to follow a strict, gluten free lifestyle.

What are the symptoms of Celiac disease?

The symptoms experienced by patients who suffer from CD vary tremendously: Some notice no discomfort from ingesting gluten, while some suffer from of bloating, gas, diarrhea, abdominal pain, rashes, fatigue, and discomfort. Regardless of the immediate issues, gluten ingestion for people with CD may cause long-term health issues, including osteoporosis (OA), infertility, anemia, and certain cancers. Therefore, despite your symptoms, those

How is Celiac disease diagnosed?

CD can be diagnosed using blood tests and a biopsy of the small intestine. Your doctor may want to test you for CD based on your symptoms or due to a genetic predisposition to developing CD. When testing rules out CD, patients may be tested for another gluten-related condition called a gluten sensitivity. Unlike CD, this condition does not have an indicator. Instead, a diagnosis is made when your doctor has eliminated any other possible issues.

How is gluten sensitivity diagnosed?

To find out whether you have a gluten sensitivity, you will usually simply eliminate gluten from your diet. If your symptoms resolve but return when gluten is reintroduced into your diet, there is a good chance that you have a gluten sensitivity. Known as the elimination/reintroduction diet, this is currently the only indicator for gluten sensitivities.  It is not currently known if there are long-term health issues associated with a gluten sensitivity, however, most doctors will strongly encourage patients who have this medical problem to abstain from eating gluten.

Does Celiac disease cause obesity or ADHD?

The advice for patients with CD or gluten sensitivity is clear: It is best to completely cut out gluten from your diet. But is it true that gluten is linked with a number of other health problems, such as ADHD or obesity? According to current research, there is nothing to indicate that gluten, which is found in rye, barley, wheat, and some kinds of oats, plays a role in the development of these conditions. However, foods that are highly processed may take some responsibility for the health issues of our modern society. But because these highly processed foods contain so many potential culprits aside from just gluten (GMOs, additives, excess sugars, to name just a few), it’s nearly impossible to blame one single ingredient.

Should I cut gluten out of my diet?

It is clear that when people reduce their gluten intake, in addition to swapping overly processed, fatty foods for fresh, natural, nutritious foods, they tend to improve in overall health and weight. However, this says more about the whole foods and less about the gluten. Patients who do not suffer from CD may benefit from eating a whole-foods-rich diet, which can include gluten-containing, minimally-processed foods. In fact, some people may actually gain weight from choosing non-gluten foods, since these items often are higher in sugar and fat than products containing gluten. So, simply cutting gluten from your diet may not benefit everyone; however, eating a whole food, vegetable and fruit based diet may improve your health.

Why is everyone going gluten free?

“Going gluten free,” has increased in popularity due to many claims that it will improve your health, even if you do not suffer from gluten sensitivity or CD. While there is no evidence to prove this, it may be good news for people who must stick to a gluten free diet for medical purposes. Restaurants are now more aware and accommodating than ever before, and likewise, supermarket shelves carry a broader range of gluten free products than ever. These gluten free items are often overpriced, though. For those who must strictly avoid gluten, this is a necessary evil. However, for the rest of us, your money is better spent on whole foods that are minimally processed, which are likely the way to a healthier lifestyle.

Joanna Schaffler, MS, RD, CDN is a Registered Nutritionist/Dietitian currently taking patients at Gotham Gastroenterology at our Upper East Side location.

She works with patients living with the following health issues, striving to help each of her patients improve their overall health and wellbeing:

  • Celiac Disease (CD) / gluten sensitivity
  • Food allergies
  • High blood pressure
  • Reflux disease
  • Obesity
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Prenatal women
  • Post-partum women

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