What is gluten intolerance? It is a condition that’s on the rise, and we’re still learning more about it. Thanks to gastroenterologist Dr. Joseph Murray, we now have evidence of a drastic increase in the occurrence of this disorder in the last 50 years. The discovery allows experts to understand how the widespread changes over the years have impacted our overall genetic makeup and health.
What Is Gluten Intolerance? | Understanding The Increase In This Disorder
In This Article:
- Gluten Intolerance Findings
- Gluten Digestion Issues Indicating A Larger Problem In The American Diet
- What is Gluten Intolerance?
- Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance
- How to Manage Gluten Intolerance
- Maintaining A Gluten-Free Diet
- Untreated Gluten Intolerance
Gluten Intolerance Findings
A Minnesota study using frozen blood samples taken from Air Force recruits 50 years ago has found that intolerance of wheat gluten, a debilitating digestive condition, is four times more common today than it was in the 1950s. Click here to read more.
The findings vary from the general idea that the increase in diagnoses of gluten intolerance (Celiac Disease) is due to an improvement in awareness and detection. Instead, the alarming increase in the number of celiac disease cases has led us to question the true cause of the digestive disorder. To be more specific, the study indicates the effects of the drastic changes the average American diet had undergone in the last couple of decades.
Gluten Digestion Issues Indicating A Larger Problem In The American Diet
“It’s become much more common,” said Dr. Joseph Murray, the Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist who led the study. To this day, there is no precise explanation for this phenomenon, but it’s being tied to the transformation of American eating habits — primarily, the widespread overprocessing of food in our diets.
The increase in the diagnoses of gluten digestion issues is not due to genetics. According to Murray, the amount of change in human genetics over the last fifty years is alarmingly fast, at a rate that isn’t normal for normal genetic mutation. Given this, the increase is likely caused by a pervasive environmental influence. Another interesting finding of the study is the recruits who had the undiagnosed disorder were also four times more likely to die. Today, one in 100 people suffer from the genetic disorder. However, most of these people are unaware of their celiac disease and only notice their intolerance after their symptoms worsen.
What is Gluten Intolerance?
The disease occurs in people whose bodies cannot process gluten, which is a protein found naturally in barley and rye, as well as wheat. Which means that people with this disorder cannot eat most bread, pastries, beer, pasta, and other foods that contain flour. Unfortunately, this covers many highly accessible types of food in the average American diet. According to the study, there is evidence showing it is this diet which has caused a steep increase in gluten allergies. The undigested protein triggers the body’s immune system to attack itself. Specifically, this autoimmune response occurs mostly in the small intestine lining. This causes diarrhea, nausea, and acute abdominal pain. People live with it for many years but over time it destroys the lining of the small intestine if left without treatment. This leads to an inability to absorb crucial nutrients. Examples of these essential nutrients are calcium and iron. That, in turn, causes serious problems including anemia, infertility, and osteoporosis. Additionally, the continued consumption of gluten can trigger immune responses which then lead to inflammation. Inflammation can manifest in many different ways.
Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance
There are several symptoms associated with gluten intolerance or celiac disease. Most of these involve the gastrointestinal tract. Examples of symptoms affecting the GI tract are bloating, gas, and painful cramping. There are also other indicators that affect different organ systems:
- fatigue and low energy
- brain fog
- skin rashes
- numb extremities
- muscle and joint pain
These symptoms are also tied with other autoimmune disorders. An example of which is the muscle and joint pain which may be mistaken for rheumatoid arthritis. Brain fog and fatigue can also be dismissed as effects of stress. These similarities make it more difficult to diagnose this specific condition. The key to managing a gluten allergy is avoiding the protein altogether. However, due to the fact that early detection is less likely, people with celiac disease tend to aggravate their condition by eating the very foods that are making them ill.
How to Manage Gluten Intolerance
The only treatment for celiac disease is a gluten-free diet. This means anything with wheat, rye, or barely is off limits. Unfortunately, this can be difficult at times due to how these ingredients are sometimes included in foods you wouldn’t expect to find them in. The following are examples of common foods containing ingredients which trigger celiac flare-ups:
- Malt milkshakes
- Graham crackers
- Baked Goods
- Cereal and granola
- Sauces and gravy
- Flour tortillas
- Soy sauce
Maintaining A Gluten-Free Diet
There are many different foods that cannot be included in a celiac diet. Unfortunately, there is still no quick fix for the disorder. But there are still a lot of options and alternatives to choose from. The following foods are safe for those with gluten allergies:
Untreated Gluten Intolerance
Additionally, Murray said he started the study to find out whether the disease is on the rise. Another objective was to determine the effects of leaving the condition untreated. Eating foods containing gluten while dealing with a gluten sensitivity can intensify other health conditions. Untreated gluten intolerance can lead to extreme inflammation and problems with absorbing nutrients.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder and it also affects other existing autoimmune issues. Some examples of these conditions are:
- Insulin-Dependent Diabetes
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Irritable Bowel
There are also cases wherein the antibodies causing celiac disease latches onto thyroid tissue. This causes some damage to the gland. And any damage to thyroid tissue can affect thyroid hormone secretion which can potentially impair several body functions.
Learn more about what is Gluten Intolerance and watch this video by Abbey Sharp:
Gluten intolerance is a condition that is rapidly increasing in occurrence. Following Dr. Joseph Murray’s study, it is clear that the causes of gluten intolerance extend beyond genetic mutation. His study involved comparing the number of celiac patients in a sample of 1950s naval recruits with that of the current general population. He did this by accessing blood work from the said group of recruits. The study is a key link between the addition of processed food into the American diet and gluten intolerance.
What are your favorite gluten-free recipes? Let us know in the comments section below!
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These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. None of the nutritional products mentioned are intended to Diagnose, Treat, Cure, or Prevent any Disease.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on January 12, 2014, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.