Gluten Intolerance

What is Gluten Intolerance Anyway?

A gluten intolerance is a recognised food intolerance, also known as coeliac / celiac disease, or tropical sprue / nontropical sprue. It is often inherited, or you can be unlucky and be born with it. If it is not diagnosed as an infant, it will only worsen as you get older. It is basically a disease in which you cannot absorb a protein found in food known as gluten. Gluten is found in food types such as:

  • Wheat
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Oats

    Gluten is actually a protein derivative of wheat and of those grains that appear tough and elastic in quality. So basically your body is allergic to this protein called gluten contained in the above named foods.

    What does this allergy do to your body?

    If you are allergic to gluten, this protein will react with the lining in your intestines (called the 'villi') damaging them by causing the lining to 'atrophy' (get smaller). This damage then restricts the absorption of other foods eaten, and can cause a variety of symptoms, which include:

  • Diarrhea (probably the most major symptom).
  • Anaemia (from poor iron absorption), along with low Vitamin B12 absorption.
  • Weight loss (that may sound good for some, but in this disease it's not).
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Breathlessness


    Diagnosis should not be done by symptom alone. If you suspect you may be gluten intolerant, visit your doctor as soon as you can for further testing. Several tests may be ordered, some of these are called lactulose intolerance tests, xylose absorption tests, and shilling tests. These tests can usually pick up on digestive malabsorption diseases. As if it's not gluten intolerance it may be something else. However to properly diagnose gluten intolerance, a biopsy of the intestine lining (the 'villi') may be needed. This test is usually called a gastroscopy or endoscopic procedure, which requires a day stay in hospital, along with fasting from 6-12 hours prior to the procedure. To gain access to the stomach, a short acting muscle relaxant is given, that is so light, you may still be able to hear what your doctor is saying. However you will feel extremely relaxed, and quite groggy. The doctor will spray a local anaesthetic down into your throat; this is so that you do not feel the insertion of a tube called a gastroscope, which will be inserted down your throat.

    The gastroscope has a camera attached, so that the stomach can be viewed on video at that time. The gastroscope also has small forceps attached; this is to enable the doctor to take a tiny sample of the stomach lining if necessary. This sample is then taken to a laboratory for testing. At the time of the procedure, your doctor should be able to see on the video screen whether your stomach lining is damaged. If the lining is damaged it is a good indication of gluten intolerance; the sample taken will confirm this.

    What happens next?

    Unfortunately you will have to modify your diet. Depending on the damage to the lining of your intestines, you may need to take vitamins for a while. Your doctor may suggest you see a dietitian to discuss what foods you need to avoid, and how you can replace the vitamin, minerals, and fibre you will be missing out on from abstaining in foods containing gluten. Once you begin to follow a gluten free diet, you will begin to feel much better, your symptoms should subside, and you will feel healthier, as your body will be able to absorb the necessary nutritional intake required for your body. So if you have had some of the above symptoms, take a visit to your doctor, and discuss this with him /her, because if you are gluten intolerant, you don't have to feel terrible every time you eat.

    - Louise Ganey

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