Ask the Doctor: Is Going Gluten Free Good For You?

Q. What’s all the excitement about avoiding gluten in the diet? Is it helpful or hype?


A. For the approximately 3-million Americans suffering from celiac disease, staying away from gluten is a way of life in order to avoid stomach pains and chronic intestinal damage.

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A gluten free diet helps those diagnosed with celiac disease.

Celiac disease is an immune disorder where eating gluten (a protein in wheat, rye and barley) triggers an abnormal response in your small intestine. This leads to inflammation, which can damage the lining over time. The result is malabsorption or lack of needed nutrients being absorbed into the system.

Symptoms of damage to the intestines include:

  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Malnourishment affecting the bones, liver and brain
  • In children, malabsorption of nutrients can thwart proper growth and development as well as discolored teeth

While there is no cure for celiac disease, one can be free of symptoms and help intestinal healing by adhering to a strict gluten-free diet.

Now, sufferers of celiac disease are not the only ones avoiding this common protein. Parents of children with autism and ADHD (attention-deficit disorder), those with allergies and pregnant women are now launching gluten-free diets of their own. Even Oprah Winfrey tried it.

So is this fad helpful to your health or hype? Well, according to Peter Green, M.D., director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, the only proof of treatment by avoiding gluten is for celiac, not those suffering from other conditions.

Testimonials from others are convincing with a whole range of improvements from the nervous system to the digestive system.

Peter Bell, executive vice president of Autism Speaks proposes the theory that autistic children may have a “leaky gut” causing toxins from gluten-containing foods to get into their brains, producing the symptoms. His son did not respond, but as many as 20-40 percent of children claim to be improved. Ten percent of people with diabetes and Downs syndrome have celiac disease.

The thing is, 97 percent of people with celiac disease have not been diagnosed. Individuals may get labeled with irritable bowel syndrome or depression. Some have gone years suffering and seeing many different specialists before the correct diagnosis is made. The proper diagnosis is made with a biopsy of the small intestine, looking for inflammation.

So if you are one of the majorities in this country who have never been diagnosed with celiac disease, but have it, adhering to a strict diet will be extremely helpful towards giving you a new lease on life.

Fortunately, many food makers are jumping on the bandwagon and it’s easier now than ever before to follow a gluten-free diet.

Bon appetit!