Gluten Intolerance: What You Need to Know About It

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Wheat, barley and rye are three of the most common ingredients of many countries' staple food. Bread, pasta and cereal are a few examples of the food products that come from these whole grains.

Many people and many cultures have adapted the way of eating with staple food. From different recipes to the different ways whole grain can be used as a substitute for your diet, wheat, barley and rye is widely produced and used all over the world.

Although these three types of whole grain foods are generally healthy and packed with the protein your body needs, there are certain drawbacks to some people. Gluten is a type of protein that can be found in wheat, barley and rye. It is the substance responsible in holding the food together and gives the food products a chewy texture. What may seem to be a harmless protein for most people are actually risky for others, especially if an individual has gluten sensitivity, also known as gluten intolerance.

Gluten intolerance is a condition where the body reacts and shows allergic reactions after ingesting gluten, mostly from wheat, barley and rye. Body reactions from gluten intolerance are not always like regular allergic reactions like wheezing, rashes and itchiness. For gluten intolerant individuals, common reactions may include gastrointestinal problems, stomach problems, fatigue, joint pains, diarrhea, abdominal and stomach bloating, and headaches.

What does it mean if you have gluten intolerance?

Gluten intolerance can mean different things to different individuals but the effects are generally the same.

  • Individuals with gluten intolerance are subjected to a gluten-free diet. The levels may vary but it focuses mainly on reducing the intake of gluten-rich food or not eating these types of food at all.
  • Since a big part of the food pyramid contains wheat, barley and rye – as supported by the staple foods in many countries – being gluten intolerant will have to force an individual to change their diet as different from other people around them.
  • Some gluten intolerance cases are not severe and individuals have adapted to the condition (although it is not advisable to tolerate it). For some who still eat gluten-rich meals, being gluten-intolerant may mean having to deal with the body reactions accompanied by it. This includes reactions such as, but not limited to, stomach ache, diarrhea, headache and digestion problems for mild cases of gluten intolerance.

Gluten Intolerance Risk Factors

Like any other health condition, gluten intolerance is developed from certain causes. These are risk factors that may or may not be avoided. The ones that can be averted, individuals should seek professional medical help. For unavoidable risk factors, individuals should maintain a gluten-free diet to avoid allergic reactions. Among the risk factors are:

  • Hereditary: Research suggests that gluten intolerance can be passed on to younger generations in the family. In a study done by Academy of Finland's Research Programme on Nutrition, Food and Health (ELVIRA), it has shown that individuals with gluten intolerance records in the family have higher risks of developing the condition themselves.
  • Infant Feeding: Studies show that babies who have just been weaned from breast milk and are suddenly given a large dose of gluten in formula milk have higher risks of developing gluten intolerance.
  • Bad bacteria in the food we eat can increase the risks of activating gluten intolerance in our body.
  • Gastrointestinal problems. Pre-occurring conditions of the gastrointestinal tract can lead to the misuse of gluten extracted from the food we eat. This can cause an abnormal reaction to gluten leading to intolerance.

Signs and Symptoms

Gluten intolerance can show the same symptoms with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. These two conditions have different effects to the body and are more harmful than gluten intolerance. Regardless, each condition may bring serious health risks for an individual, and thus they should seek medical help when they show some of these signs and symptoms.

  • An individual may experience dizziness, vomiting and nausea
  • The mouth and throat may feel irritated and itchy
  • Break out of rashes and hives
  • Having problems with digestion and bowel movement
  • Diarrhea
  • Eye irritation, nasal congestion, wheezing, difficulty in breathing and other common signs on allergic reactions

How to test for gluten intolerance?

When you show signs and symptoms of gluten intolerance, it may not always mean that you have this condition. Screening and medical testings should still be done for a health condition to be ruled out and for the right medical advice to be given.

Among the tests and screenings done to check for gluten intolerance are:

  • Blood screening
  • Injecting of antibodies to identify allergic reactions
  • Testing allergic reactions on wheat, barley and rye

Gluten intolerance has different levels of effects to different people. On most cases, a gluten-free diet is advised, but for those who have mild reactions and still prefer to eat gluten-rich food, precaution is advised so as not to further escalate the gluten-intolerance and its symptoms.

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