If you’re wondering, “Should I go gluten-free?”, it’s best to first understand what it actually means. So, what is gluten intolerance, and how is it different than coeliac disease? Here, health experts share the most common symptoms of gluten intolerance and coeliac disease, and where to go for allergy testing in Singapore.
What is gluten intolerance?
Gluten refers to a family of proteins found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. Most beers (malt and malt flavouring), breads, cookies, cakes, crackers, pastas and pizza contain gluten.
Both, coeliac disease and gluten intolerance cause the body to have negative reactions to gluten. However, the two conditions are different.
Coeliac disease is an immune-based reaction to dietary gluten (storage protein for wheat, barley and rye).
It’s a serious condition in which the inflammatory reaction damages the lining of the small intestine. This damage impairs the body’s absorption of important nutrients, explain gastroenterologist DR ANDREA RAJNAKOVA and nutritional consultant VERONICA CAVALLINI of Andrea’s Digestive, Colon, Liver and Gallbladder Clinic here in Singapore.
The clinic treats patients with a wide range of gastrointestinal conditions such as reflux, inflammatory bowel disease, gallstones, and gastric, colon, liver and pancreatic problems, and provides endoscopy procedures like gastroscopies and colonoscopies. The clinic also provides patients with holistic care by focusing on their diets, lifestyle choices and food allergy testing.
Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity
Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, or simply ‘gluten sensitivity,’ is a more mild form of gluten intolerance that isn’t hereditary.
For someone with a non-celiac gluten sensitivity, eating gluten can cause some of the same symptoms that present with coeliac disease. However, with non-celiac gluten sensitivity, there is no measurable response or intestinal damage, says Dr Andrea.
In fact, a patient’s symptoms usually improve once gluten is removed for his or her diet.
Most common symptoms of gluten intolerance
Regardless of the type of gluten intolerance you have, there’s no denying your body is telling you something’s not right. Here are the most common symptoms of gluten intolerance.
That horrible sensation that feels like you’ve got a balloon in your belly is awful. So, what does bloating mean?
While bloating is very common and can have many different explanations, it is one of the most common symptoms of gluten intolerance.
In the case of coeliac disease, bloating can mean that the digestive system has failed to break down nutrients into small, absorbable molecules.
#2 Abdominal pain
Abdominal pain appears in different patterns and with varying intensities, explains Dr Andrea. It’s a very common symptom of gluten intolerance, but can also signal a number of of other gastrointestinal conditions. So, it’s best to see a doctor for a proper diagnosis.
Diarrhoea is the increased frequency of bowel movements, which are also loose or watery.
Though it can be present in a variety of inflammatory bowel conditions, diarrhoea can be associated with food allergy or coeliac disease. It is another one of the most common symptoms of gluten intolerance.
People with coeliac disease experience inflammation in the small intestine after eating gluten. This inflammation damages the gut lining, which can lead to diarrhoea and other problems.
Constipation is the decreased frequency or slowing of bowel movements. When the GI tract is slowed down, feces can accumulate in the colon, creating pain and bloating, explains Dr Andrea.
While constipation is often the result of inadequate water and fibre intake, or an increased intake of processed and fatty food, it can also one of the most common symptoms of gluten intolerance.
#5 Unexplained weight loss
Losing weight unintentionally can be worrisome. It is often a sign that there’s a serious condition at play. This can include coeliac disease.
When a person with coeliac disease eats gluten, the inflammation caused by the body’s reaction to gluten reduces the small intestine’s absorptive surface area, making it hard to digest enzymes and important nutrients.
So, apart from abdominal pain and uncomfortable bloating, this malabsorption can lead to malnutrition and unhealthy weight-loss.
Other symptoms of gluten intolerance and coeliac disease
Sometimes, coeliac disease can present with symptoms that are not as obviously linked to the gastrointestinal tract. This may include abnormal liver function tests, iron deficiency anaemia, bone disease, skin disorders and itchy skin.
Where to go for allergy testing in Singapore
If you’ve got symptoms of gluten intolerance or coeliac disease, it’s best to see a doctor to for allergy testing.
Coeliac disease can be detected by a blood test, say Dr Andrea and Veronica.
“We first do a physical examination and take a detailed medical history, plus an evaluation of dietary habits. After detecting coeliac disease with a blood test, we would do a biopsy of the small intestine to confirm the diagnosis. This would during gastroscopy.”
Both, the blood test and biopsy should be done when the patient is eating a diet that contains gluten.
If coeliac disease is ruled out, your doctor may recommend an elimination diet trial, which can reveal gluten sensitivity.
“Since there is no specific blood test for diagnosing gluten intolerance, a diagnosis can made by exclusion of other gluten-related disorders like coeliac disease or a wheat allergy.”
So, should I go gluten-free even if I don’t have gluten intolerance or coeliac disease?
Gluten is a harmless protein that is naturally found in many different foods. Most people do not have a problem digesting it.
While food-related allergies are on the rise in recent years due to changing dietary habits, cutting gluten out of your diet won’t benefit your health unless you’re suffering from coeliac disease or a gluten sensitivity.
“Gluten-free food is sometimes promoted as a a ‘healthier’ alternative or a way to lose weight. But, there is no evidence that going gluten-free is beneficial for people who do not have coeliac disease. People without this condition often, mistakenly, adopt the ‘gluten-free diet’ with the belief that it is benefiting them.”
What’s more, consuming gluten-free food is not the same as staying gluten-free, they say. Patients with coeliac disease are aware of this difference and avoid commercially prepared, gluten-free food substitutes, which are usually highly processed.
“The biggest problem with the ‘gluten-free diet’ in the general population is that, without proper guidance, these commercially-prepared, processed foods are low in nutrients,” say Dr Andrea and Veronica. “In fact, many gluten-free foods are loaded with higher concentrations of food additives than their original counterparts.”
If you do need to cut gluten out of your diet, there are specific ways to do it. So, it’s best to see a specialist for tips and guidelines.
Also, there are fabulous gluten-free recipes available. Try this gluten-free Christmas cookie recipe!
Andrea’s Digestive, Colon, Liver and Gallbladder Clinic
#21-11/12 Royal Square at Novena, 101 Irrawaddy Road
6264-2836 | andrea-digestive-clinic.com
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