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Gluten, Your Gut, and You

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With the gluten-free product market expected to surpass $6.2 billion worldwide by 2018, dropping gluten is all the rage these days. But there’s a distinct difference between those who are allergic to gluten and those who are only insensitive to it. We here at the Beverly Hills Center for Digestive Health want to help you tell the difference so you can adjust your diet accordingly.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and some other carbs that help bread rise and gives the elasticity and texture we expect from our pasta and noodles. But it can also cause problems in some peoples’ digestive systems.

What negative reactions can it cause?

  • Celiac disease: The most severe of reactions, celiac disease, is an autoimmune disorder inherited from a genetic disposition. If you have celiac disease, when you digest gluten, the cells lining your small intestine will flatten, which can cause inflammation, the malabsorption of nutrients in your food, and other related health issues. There are actually over 200 different identified symptoms of celiac disease, ranging from anemia to behavioral changes, to stunted growth and infertility. Current estimates believe that 1% of the population has celiac disease, although 83% of those people are undiagnosed. To determine if you have celiac disease, a doctor will hold a blood screening, and if that turns out positive, a small intestine biopsy.
  • Wheat Allergy: Wheat is composed of hundreds of different proteins, and a wheat allergy is a reaction to any number of them. When you have a wheat allergy, your body sees it as an invader. To fight this infection, a type of white blood cell known as a B-cell releases immunoglobulin antibodies to attack the wheat. Simultaneously, the rest of your body sends out natural signals that there is an invader, which can result in a wide range of symptoms including nausea, itching, abdominal pain, swelling of the lips and tongue, issues breathing, and — in major cases — life threatening anaphylaxis. People with wheat allergy must avoid eating wheat but can consume gluten from other sources.
  • Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS): Also known as gluten sensitivity or non-celiac wheat sensitivity, NCGS is not well defined at this time. It is neither an autoimmune reaction nor an immunoglobulin reaction like the two reactions above, and can only be determined via a process of dietary elimination. Tests are done for both celiac disease and wheat allergy, and if a trial run of a gluten-free diet leads to a decrease in symptoms, a person is considered NCGS.

If you think you might have one of the above conditions, contact the Beverly Hills Center for Digestive Health and schedule an appointment today. We’ll start you on a “rule-out” process to determine if you may be suffering from one of these disorders.

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