SO YOU THINK IT COULD BE GLUTEN……. What’s next?
So you have been experiencing symptoms, they may be related to digestion like diarrhoea, constipation, bloating or pain. Or you could just be really tired, feeling run down and having recurring mouth ulcers. Maybe someone you know suggested you should avoid gluten and see how you go. Either way there are some important steps you should follow, if you suspect gluten might be responsible for your symptoms.
You might think that getting rid of all your gluten containing food and researching all the new things you can eat would be your first step. STOP. KEEP EATING GLUTEN PRODUCTS. Hang on, wait a minute… this is weird advice, especially coming from a naturopath like myself. “Aren’t we meant to hate gluten and put everyone on a gluten free, dairy free and sugar free diet?” Well let me explain why you shouldn’t abruptly stop eating gluten when you strongly suspect it alone might be causing your health issues.
If gluten was the cause and your doctor or health care practitioner suspect you have Coeliac disease (CD), the first thing they will want to do is send you off for some simple blood tests. CD is an autoimmune condition, which means your body attacks self, in other words your body turns against itself and damages or destroys your cells. This is because in autoimmune conditions there “is a switch that is flicked” and the body sees its own cells as an enemy. The blood tests you are sent for, will be detecting if there are any antibodies (proteins found in the body that tag cells, viruses and bacteria that need to be destroyed) for gluten or for the cells found in the small intestine. This is what the body sees as an enemy in CD. If you are eating gluten and you have CD then your body will be making plenty of antibodies to gluten and to the cells in the small intestine (which end up being attacked and damaged, this is called villous atrophy- see picture).
When you go on a gluten free diet, you will stop making antibodies, the ones present will be broken down and healing will take place. Even if you just decrease gluten in your diet, the antibodies may drop below detectable levels. So you could have CD, be tested while on a gluten free diet and have a negative test result to the antibodies (as they are not being produced) and you would be told you do not have CD. So this is a case of having a false negative result. You can see how this would be quite dangerous. You get told you do not have CD, so you possibly go back to including gluten, all the while causing more damage to your gut, leading to swelling and inflammation, which can then lead to other complications and/or any of the related conditions.
The amount of gluten you must consume to have reliable blood test results, equates to eating 4 slices of bread for adults and 2 slices for children for at least 6 weeks. (Coeliac Australia) This could also include things like crackers, pasta, bread or baked goods.
When I see many patients in clinic that have suspected gluten could be causing their problems, I always think about ruling out CD first, or ask if they have already had this done & were they eating enough gluten at the time. When the figures are showing that 4 out of 5 people that have CD do not know (Coeliac Australia), it’s a great place to start. Especially since CD does not have clear cut symptoms, some do not have any digestive symptoms and some people do not have any symptoms at all. It is not a disease that you want to leave undiagnosed for years, especially when you consider some of the complications possible are thyroid disease, Type 1 diabetes and even bowel cancer. (Coeliac Australia) I highly recommend that you seek the advice of a health professional who has extensive knowledge in digestive conditions and who can refer you for testing and guide you through the steps to correct diagnosis.
Please get in touch if you have any questions about what you have read or about your health.