Written by Kyrie
This is a continuation of my series on Going Gluten Free; you can find the first post here.
One of the hardest things about gluten intolerance or celiac disease is properly identifying symptoms. One could exhibit many symptoms, or just a few. They can disguise themselves as other problems, not appear to be related, or present themselves as behaviors and emotions. Usually by the time people start looking into it, there are so many symptoms, physical and emotional, that have piled up, they are just looking for any answer that can help themselves or their loved ones feel better.
Let's start with a definition: celiac disease is an autoimmune digestive disease that damages the villi of the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food. This sounds like a small, localized thing that should have symptoms that are purely digestive, and while there are certainly digestive complaints that often come with it, that's not all it affects.
Did you know that the gastrointestinal tract has actually been nicknamed by scientists as the "second brain?" People who have damaged guts can exhibit all kinds of mood and behavior problems. Depression, mood swings, anger, irritability are all possibilities.
What about the systemic inflammation that is a result of the body's immune response to gluten? In addition to arthritis, chronic inflammation has also been linked to diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. It can also be the culprit behind various skin conditions, including eczema.
Not being able to absorb nutrients can have a myriad of ill effects, including but not limited to malnutrition, failure to thrive, an inability to gain weight, and a suppressed immune system.
I also wanted to mention here that some people present symptoms more or less severely than others, and some present symptoms earlier or later than others. So you could have had a lifetime of relatively few symptoms and get steadily worse or you could be like our eldest daughter and present rather severe symptoms from the very beginning.
The variety of symptoms that may be experienced by any one person is as unique as their personality. Here is a list of over 300 symptoms that are linked to gluten intolerance or celiac disease. Over 300! It's a great place to start if you are wondering if you could benefit from trying a gluten free diet. Yes, there are tests that you can take to screen for celiac disease, but they are far from perfect. My advice to you is, if you think you might be better off without gluten in your diet, all you need is six weeks of your time and a little rethinking of your diet. For us, it was a sacrifice that changed our lives.
Regardless of the number or severity of symptoms, however, there is just one cure: going on a completely 100% gluten free diet. If you have celiac disease, you can do nothing by half measures. Every time a person with celiac disease consumes gluten, the villi are damaged, and the person experiences an immune response. There really is no such thing as being a little bit gluten free, or gluten free sometimes, so you can feel a little bit better.
So what do you eat now? Where do you start? That's what we'll talk about next time. In the meantime, I would love it if my gluten-free readers would speak up in the comments with the symptoms that led you to going gluten-free. It can be so revealing and empowering to read about others' experiences. Thank you so much!
Where we've been: Going Gluten Free: The Beginning
Where we are now: Going Gluten Free: How Do I Know if I Need to go Gluten Free?
Where we are headed:
- Going Gluten Free: How Do I Start? Talking to friends and family, how to explain it to your children, thinking about what to eat
- Going Gluten Free: What Do I Eat Now? Dos and don'ts, eating out, menu ideas
- Going Gluten Free: Navigating Social Events and Holidays
- Going Gluten Free: Favorite Foods
- Going Gluten Free: Recipes My favorite recipes, tips, and tricks
- Going Gluten Free: Supporting Your Health
- Going Gluten Free: Q&A