Gluten Intolerance Goes “Legit”: Update

Back in July, I reported on medical research that demonstrated, once and for all, that gluten sensitivity wasn’t an imaginary ailment but its own distinct immune-system condition, separate from celiac disease or wheat allergy.

Then the questions became: Who has it? and What is it exactly? Neither question has a precise answer at the moment.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, “About 1% of people in the U.S. have celiac disease…Some gastroenterologists say that for every patient with celiac disease, they see six to eight who have the same symptoms, but without the tell-tale antibodies or intestinal damage needed to confirm celiac.”

The symptoms appear to fall within three general areas of autoimmune reaction:

  • Gut reaction: gas, diarrhea, bloating, cramps.
  • Skin reaction: chronic, itchy skin lesions caused by dermatitis herpetiformis.*
  • Brain reaction: unsteady gait, speech problems, and lack of motor control (also known as gluten ataxia*).

I suggest that, given the similarities in symptoms between celiac disease and gluten intolerance, those of us with the latter should keep an eye on celiac research.

Currently, researchers are looking into other brain illnesses that might be connected to gluten intake: 

  • Schizophrenia: people with this illness have “a higher rate of the anti-gluten antibodies and gene variations associated with celiac disease than the general population.”
  • Autism: “Some parents of autistic children say their symptoms improve, sometimes dramatically, on a gluten-free diet, though no link has been firmly established in lab studies.”
  • Dementia: “In a 2006 study, physicians at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., identified 13 patients with celiac disease who started showing signs of cognitive decline at the same time gastrointestinal symptoms set in. Some improved and some didn’t on a gluten-free diet, and much more research is needed to explore the connection. But neurologists at the Mayo Clinic now routinely test for celiac disease in patients with early on-set dementia.”

*According to PubMed Health:

  • The cause of dermatitis herpetiformis is not known but its occurrence has been linked to celiac disease.
  • Ataxia refers to a lack of coordination arising from a muscle control problem or an inability to finely coordinate movements.

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