Gluten allergy, known as Celiac Disease, is an autoimmune disease of the intestines, with consequent malabsorption and malnutrition problems. When left undiagnosed and unaddressed long-term, this allergic reaction to gluten protein can contribute to anemia, bowel cancer, diabetes or osteoporosis.
Symptoms of a gluten allergy differ from person to person, the most obvious being abdominal disturbances and pain, emanating from bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea. A person’s appetite can decrease, increase, or remain the same, so diverse and varied are the symptoms.
People with gluten allergy often do not exhibit overt classic symptoms, but internally, over long-term, the continuum of reactions to gluten manifest into malabsorption and eventually, malnutrition. Serious nutritional and vitamin deficiencies take place because the intestines can no longer process, absorb, nor utilize the nutrients when gluten is being consumed. Also, the condition can be exacerbated by stress, pregnancy, childbirth, or surgery. People experiencing various levels of gluten allergy symptoms, along with Celiac Disease, also run the risk of intestinal tract cancers.
Mentally and emotionally, a person having a gluten allergy can live with frequent headaches or chronic exhaustion. He or she may experience daily bouts of irritability, behavioral changes, or depression.
Physically, a gluten allergy can cause nausea, vomiting, with unexplained weight loss or weight gain, or even stay at the same weight. Celiac Disease can cause cramping, tingling and numbness in the limbs, or joint pain. Often, people with a gluten allergy develop lactose intolerance as well, with the need to eliminate dairy products altogether from their diets, along with gluten. When constipation or diarrhea occurs, the elimination may be greasy, and/or foul-smelling due to poor digestion.
Physiologically, Celiac Disease can cause irregular menstrual cycles, infertility, or miscarriage. In addition, one may experience a decline in dental health due to this condition. Because the intestines have difficulty absorbing vital vitamins and minerals, not-so-noticeable signs may appear, such as bruising easily, having hair loss, itchy skin, mouth ulcers, nosebleeds, and even seizures, all symptoms due to malabsorption and malnutrition.
Children with gluten allergy often display slow growth, are shorter than normal height for their age, and are often fussy or irritable. They may experience symptoms to that of adults: nausea/vomiting, constipation/diarrhea, and fatty, obnoxious smelling stool. This can result in poor weight gain, delays in puberty, affecting healthy tooth enamel or changes in tooth coloring.
Celiac Disease is not curable, but symptoms will heal and go away if a person goes on a gluten-free diet. However, one should not embark on such a diet until diagnosis has been confirmed, as this could affect testing for the disease.
Because symptoms of a gluten allergy are similar to other diseases and vary so diversely between individuals, a blood test must be done to determine levels of certain antibodies present in the blood. Antibody levels are normally raised when allergens such as gluten protein are present. If the test is positive, an upper endoscopy is done, and a biopsy is taken from the small intestine. If an allergy to gluten shows up in the villi of the small intestine being flattened, a follow-up biopsy or blood test is done again. Genetic testing for Celiac Disease is also available for those suffering from this allergy.
Before going on a gluten-free diet, one should consult with one’s doctor and a nutritionist, to make sure all nutrients and supplements are being consumed and covered for good health. Going on a gluten-free diet involves avoiding gluten grains such as wheat, barley, oats, and dairy foods, etc., as people with Celiac Disease may also be intolerant to dairy products with lactose.
One’s diet can be substituted with gluten-free grains such as soybean flour, tapioca, rice, corn, buckwheat, potato flour from white or sweet potatoes, and yams. When considering processed foods, one should read labels carefully to identify hidden gluten protein ingredients such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein, starches ( except from corn starch), flour and cereal products, malt and malt flavorings, various flavorings made from cereal grain gluten, vegetable gum, emulsifiers, and stabilizers. When eating at any restaurant, one should stay away from breaded foods, creamed foods, meatloaf, and gravies, as they are usually made with wheat and wheat gluten.
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