Gluten intolerance overview

Gluten intolerance is also called gluten sensitivity. It is not just one specific illness, but a series of conditions where a person has a reaction, not necessarily sufficient enough to call it an allergy. However, the intolerance is sufficient to cause damage over time to the intestines, even affecting the chemistry of the blood. In some people, with autoimmune diseases, this intolerance can make them harder to treat and in others, show the opposite effect. Each person is definitely affected differently, but very few people are aware that they have an intolerance at all. Some notice subtle changes – their pants do not fit as well as they used to. They put it down to getting older. They feel intense fatigue, as well as more headaches, but put it down to insufficient rest and too much stress. Some try diet after diet to find that their belly fat just will not budge. Overall, each one of them feels unwell, though they never consider the fact that they might be suffering from gluten intolerance.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a natural protein found in triticale, wheat, malt, rye, barley, spelt, wheat and kamut. However, unlike these, oats, which do contain lower levels of gluten, do not always affect gluten intolerance sufferers, and if they do, this is usually because the oats have been processed in an area where contamination from the other gluten grains is possible. If the person is suffering from Celiac Disease, any type of gluten can cause problems, further damaging the intestines. That is why it is important to isolate which glutens are causing the problem, with a doctor’s help, and which ones have to be removed from a person’s diet to allow their intestines to heal. Interestingly, it is not until glutens are removed from a person’s diet that they understand how much better they feel without them. Within just days, symptoms start to improve and dissipate.

Gluten’s Negative Impact on the Body

Grains as we know them today were not mass produced for mass human consumption until ten thousand years ago. Before then, grains were rarely eaten and most people’s diets contained seeds and grasses instead, things that were easier to digest and that the human body had had a long time to get used to. Grains and gluten are new to the body and some people’s bodies have not evolved to cope with digesting them. As a result, gluten can have a negative impact on the body, most especially the immune system and digestive tract. Celiacs respond to gluten by attacking the hairy-like projections in their intestines, preventing them from absorbing important nutrients. Damage to the intestines from gluten might show no symptoms for many years, or be ignored as something else until symptoms become so severe that either Celiac Disease occurs (a serious gluten allergy) or damage has been done. Long-term gluten intolerance can make the body very sick. Severe intolerances include symptoms such as vitamin deficiencies, anaemia and unexplained loss of weight. Only by removing the gluten from a person’s diet can any hope of healing take place. Eventually, with medical supervision, it might be possible to reintroduce gluten, but this is not guaranteed.

Gluten Intolerance and the Future

No one yet knows what causes gluten intolerance; only that it exists and is caused by grain proteins. As a result, the only treatments have covered symptoms and removing glutens from a person’s diet. However, even if gluten grains cannot be reintroduced, there are many non-gluten alternatives that can be eaten instead. These include quinoa, amaranth, millet, buckwheat, corn, wild rice and rice. As a result, life without regular grains does not mean going without bread, cake and other treasures that many people take for granted in their daily lives.