Currently, about 1% of people in the United States have been diagnosed with celiac disease. It is quite likely that many people are undiagnosed. In addition it is estimated that an additional 6-13% of people have a sensitivity to gluten, known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
The avoidance of gluten in connection with these conditions has raised a greater awareness for gluten in foods and has created market demand for a wide range of gluten free products.
At Gluten Free Society, we aim to empower you with information to help navigate what foods are actually gluten free, as well as what you can do to help heal your body from the damaging effects of gluten.
It is important to know that there is currently no known way to cure or reverse gluten intolerance, celiac disease, or non celiac gluten sensitivity, but you can repair the damage that gluten has caused to your body by changing your diet.
Table of Contents
Understanding Gluten Intolerance
As more and more people discover the benefits of avoiding gluten in their diets, an increasing number of people avoid gluten. But it is important to know the difference between the reasons that some people avoid gluten. Below we explain three different categories which are often referred to interchangeably, but are actually quite different.
- Celiac disease: Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder. The ingestion of gluten causes a reaction in your body that triggers your immune system to produce antibodies against it. These antibodies damage the lining of your small intestine. Celiac disease has a genetic component, meaning you are more likely to have celiac disease if a direct relative has it.
- Gluten intolerance: Many people experience a range of gastrointestinal symptoms but test negative for celiac disease. Research is beginning to acknowledge that this population is likely facing gluten intolerance. This intolerance is likely due to the inherent nature of gluten to be difficult to digest. Intolerances generally mean that the body lacks an enzyme or ability to digest a certain protein.
- Non celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS): Those with gluten sensitivity often test negative for celiac disease but can face a number of health issues including autoimmune diseases. Although commonly thought to be less of a problem than celiac, NCGS triggers immune reactions that in some cases are just as life threatening. For an in depth breakdown on the differences between celiac, gluten intolerance, and NCGS, watch our free Glutenology© Masterclass here.
Symptoms of Gluten Exposure
The symptoms of gluten exposure can vary greatly from person to person which can make a diagnosis challenging. In addition, symptoms extend far beyond the digestive concerns that are most commonly discussed with respect to celiac disease and gluten intolerance. Common symptoms include the following:
- Digestive symptoms such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, or constipation
- Skin issues like rash, eczema, or dermatitis herpetiformis
- Fatigue, brain fog, or difficulty concentrating
- Joint pain, muscle aches, or inflammation
- Headaches or migraines
- Mood changes, depression, or anxiety
- Nutrient deficiencies due to malabsorption
- Irregular menstrual cycles or fertility issues
Diagnostic Process for Gluten Intolerance
Many people may suspect celiac disease or gluten intolerance based on symptoms, but there are also several tests to confirm your suspicion. Consulting a healthcare professional for diagnosis is important to adequately understand your state of health and next steps. Below are a few of the diagnostic tests for celiac disease:
- Genetic Testing: Genetic testing is a highly accurate look at your genes to understand whether you have a genetic predisposition to reacting to gluten. Learn more about genetic testing here, as well as the limitations of other testing.
- Blood Testing: A blood test is available that checks for certain antibodies. People with celiac disease who eat gluten produce antibodies in their blood because their immune systems view gluten as a threat. It is important to note that you must be on a gluten-containing diet for antibody blood testing to be accurate. Is is also important to note that these types of tests can also be misleading, as they can come back falsely negative 10-15% of the time.
- Endoscopy: An endoscopy is when a tube is inserted down your throat so that a practitioner can look at your small intestine for inflammation or damage. They may also take a small biopsy of your intestines. Like blood testing, you must be eating a diet that contains gluten for this test to be accurate. This type of testing is accurate when positive, but missed diagnosis is common. A biopsy finding villous atrophy can also be misleading because other things can cause atrophy beyond gluten, such as parasites, glyphosate, non steroidal anti inflammatories (NSAIDS), proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) used traditionally for heartburn, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) used for depression and mood disorders, Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) used for high blood pressure, heart failure, kidney disease and other conditions, and also vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Lifestyle and Dietary Changes
The key change to make to manage celiac disease or gluten sensitivity is to eliminate gluten-containing foods from the diet. While this might seem straightforward, the unfortunate reality is that many products are marketed as gluten free when they actually contain hidden sources of gluten. Therefore it is critical to understand how to read labels and what to look for so that you can properly avoid gluten in your diet. Plenty of nutritious and delicious foods exist that are naturally gluten free, and fortunately, they are typically better for your health than their gluten containing counterparts.
Managing Symptoms and Promoting Healing
Even after eliminating gluten from your diet, there is healing that must occur “behind the scenes”. This healing will address the intestinal damage from gluten consumption, plus the downstream effects of intestinal damage, like compromised skin health and nutrient deficiencies. Below are some ways to help promote healing.
- Incorporate nutrient-rich and gut-healing foods in the diet: foods like bone broth can help to heal and repair the gut lining.
- Promote gut health through probiotics and prebiotics: probiotics (good bacteria) and prebiotics (the food that feeds probiotics) can help to rebalance a dysbiotic or unbalanced gut.
- Explore natural remedies to reduce inflammation and support healing: foods and supplements like turmeric, ginger, and omega-3 fatty acids can help to manage inflammation as the body heals. You can read our Ultimate Guide To Supplements here.
Seeking Professional Guidance
When seeking to heal from gluten and support a gluten free lifestyle, it is important to work with a healthcare professional who is well versed in gluten and gut health. A practitioner may perform additional testing and can discuss personalized treatment options and strategies to help you heal and optimize your health. A professional will also be a guide along the journey so that together you can monitor progress and make adjustments to your treatment plan as needed.
Lifestyle Tips for Long-Term Success
It might feel daunting at first to embark on the journey of a gluten free lifestyle, but you will quickly get into a rhythm of enjoying naturally gluten free foods. Once your body starts to heal, the positive changes that come from eliminating gluten from your diet will be motivation to continue on the journey. Here are some tips to help you maintain a gluten free lifestyle.
- Invest in cooking: the easiest way to ensure you’re eating delicious gluten free food is to create it yourself. Investing in cooking might mean you invest time in learning how to cook, or that you invest some money into some high quality cookware or kitchen appliances. Either way, making it fun and easy to get into the kitchen will help your journey.
- Find tasty substitutes: this will take a little trial and error, but quickly you’ll find that a gluten free substitute exists for just about everything. Learning to cook with gluten free flours and getting acquainted with trustworthy sites will also support this. Check out the recipe section of our website for inspiration.
- Make your friends and family aware: starting any new effort, including adopting a gluten free lifestyle, requires support. Make sure that the people closest to you understand this change – what it is, why you’re doing it, and what it means for how you may interact with them. This can help make things like family gatherings or eating out at restaurants less stressful.
- Plan in advance: the truth is, when you eat gluten free, you really can’t rely on being able to just “wing it” or grab food out on whim. Cross contamination is a real concern, and questionable ingredients like processed and refined grains exist in just about everything. When you know that meals or snacks will be eaten out (for example, on vacation, at a baseball game, etc.), plan to bring your own delicious items so that you know you will have something to enjoy and will stay safe and healthy. Planning ahead might also mean researching restaurant menus or locating a nearby healthy grocery store.
For more support and comprehensive information, check out our Glutenology Masterclass
While there is no known way to reverse celiac disease or non celiac gluten sensitivity, it is important to know that you can repair the damage that gluten has caused to your body by changing your diet and lifestyle. This includes eliminating gluten from the diet while supporting the body with naturally healing foods and supplements.
The journey to heal the body from gluten might feel daunting, but Gluten Free Society is here to walk you through it every step of the way. The effort will be well worth it to enjoy better health!