Could Your Toast Be Tossing You Troubles? Uncover the Many Faces of Gluten Reactions

Celiac disease is an autoimmune reaction to the gluten found in wheat, barley and rye. What makes this condition so insidious is its wide range of possible symptoms, including not only digestive discomfort but also nerve damage, dementia, thyroid disorders, diabetes and nutrient deficiencies. Many of these health problems may seem unrelated to food, so it’s crucial to become aware of this disease’s many faces.

Although celiac has been traditionally considered a digestive disease with symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea, intestinal gas and stomach pain, recent research has revealed that gluten’s harmful effects could extend beyond digestion. Experiencing nerve damage or brain fog may not initially lead you to suspect that gluten could be causing these troubles, and often your doctor will not suspect it either. However, gluten found in bread can indeed wreak havoc on the body’s nervous system and cognitive functioning.

Detecting Celiac Disease

Frequent bloating, stomach pain, unexplained diarrhea, intestinal gas, vomiting, anorexia, irritable bowel syndrome and unexplained weight loss might indicate the presence of celiac disease. In addition, neurological disorders like peripheral neuropathy (nerve pain) and ataxia (uncoordinated walking and loss of muscle control) can also be telltale signs. Other possible symptoms include unexplained deficiencies of vitamins or minerals, iron deficiency anemia, osteoporosis, fatigue, elevated liver function tests, Type 1 diabetes, autoimmune thyroid diseases and other autoimmune problems. Having a parent, siblings or other close relatives with celiac can also signal this disease.

People with celiac disease may have difficulty becoming pregnant or maintaining the pregnancy. Research studies from Finland, Italy and the Middle East have found that up to 8% of infertile women have undiagnosed celiac disease. Young girls with celiac may experience delayed menstruation, while those who are pregnant may encounter spontaneous abortion. Moreover, early menopause can also be linked to celiac disease.

Identifying and Managing the Disease

Celiac disease can emerge at any age, but it usually takes about 10 years for the average adult to be correctly diagnosed — a situation that may change as celiac awareness increases. Fortunately, a simple blood test is now available to confirm whether you have this disease. Unlike in the past, you likely won’t require a biopsy of the intestinal tract to check for damage caused by gluten.

A lifelong gluten-free diet is the only way to manage celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Removing wheat, barley and rye-containing foods is essential, along with eliminating manufactured foods that contain these grains. Gluten-free versions of pasta, cookies, pizza and other favorite foods can be found, but they are often quite expensive.

Maintaining a gluten-free diet can be challenging, but many people find that they adjust to it relatively easily. Consuming whole foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, meat and nuts provides a wealth of nutrients and eliminates the need for gluten-containing processed foods. For those with a sweet tooth, gluten-free chocolate may be the answer to satisfying cravings without triggering any adverse reactions.