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How Much Do You Know About Gluten?

13 May 2015

What is gluten?

Gluten is the major protein component of wheat and is composed of gliadins and glutenins, only the gliaden portion has been shown to activate celiac disease.

The definition of Celiac Disease is a positive biopsy of the small intestine - showing damaged tissue surface structures known as villi. A biopsy is a tiny piece of intestinal tissue viewed under a microscope. The villi are tiny finger-like projections on the inside lining of the gut - and are responsible for absorption of nutrients - and filtration and removal of unwanted waste and toxic materials. When these structures are damaged consequences for the patient include malabsorption illnesses, serial infections and chronic diarrhoea - amongst other illnesses.

Cause of Celiac Disease

Celiac Disease - just like all gluten intolerance is genetic. Blame your parents - it's in your genes! So you got it from your parents, grandparents and other ancestors. And if you have children - you have already passed on that same genetic material to your children and grandchildren.

So if you turn out to be gluten intolerant - share your findings with your kids, your brothers, sisters, parents and others. Research shows that up to 10% of the immediate family will also be affected, even if they don't yet have any symptoms.

Prevalence of Celiac Disease - 0.5%

Around 0.5% of the world's population has Celiac Disease. That's only about 1 in 200 people.

Prevalence of Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity - 15%

However studies show Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) is around 30 times more prevalent. Up to 15% of people or 1 in 7 are gluten sensitive and suffer many of the same symptoms. These are people who test negative or inconclusive for the coeliac disease biopsy or blood tests.

Dermatitis Herpetiformis and other Associated Diseases 

Dermatitis Herpetiformis (DH) is another form of gluten intolerance and affects the skin by forming lesions that are watery and itchy blisters. DH only presents when the patient has inherited the gene. In this case they may or may not have the intestinal symptoms as described above. Some gluten intolerance is identified in children. But for others, it is not until much later in life that gluten intolerance is even suspected. One indicator can be persistently low iron levels or anaemia.

Other diseases associated with gluten intolerance are auto-immune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes mellitus, autoimmune thyroid disease, and cancers of the intestine. 

What foods to avoid

Wheat, rye, barley and oats. It is important to also be aware of processed foods that may contain these grains such as sauces, muesli bars, cakes, biscuits, soups, spreads, crackers, breads, desserts, ice cream cones, soy milks and confectionary etc.

What foods to use instead

Grains that can be used as an alternative to wheat, barley and rye are corn, buckwheat, millet, rice and quinoa. All of these grains can be bought in either flour or flakes for use in cooking or as a cereal alternative. Flour made out of nuts can also be used for baking such as almond or walnut flour.

Recent History of Celiac Disease

World War 2 food rationing in Europe meant that wheat and barley were diverted to feed troops. Those left behind were switched to other grains like corn and rice.   Dr Willem Karel Dicke (from the Netherlands) noticed that a group of sickly children he had been treating suddenly became well on the substitute foods. He postulated that the grain proteins were the culprits - glutens. He presented his findings to the Royal Society but was ridiculed. After the war when rationing ended and wheat was reintroduced he observed that the children all fell ill again. The Gluten-free diet was born. 


Tags: Gluten, Health, Lifestyle, Medication, Organic food

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