What is Gluten?

What is gluten? It seems like many people run around looking for gluten-free products not knowing exactly what gluten is. I will admit that I didn’t know what gluten was until the word was being labeled on every product in sight. I eventually had to do research to figure out what all this gluten-free craze was all about. Even after all that extensive research, it’s still hard to explain what gluten is.

So what exactly is gluten? Google.com defines it as: a substance present in cereal grains, especially wheat, that is responsible for the elastic texture of dough. A mixture of two proteins, it causes illness in people with celiac disease. Gluten is found in wheat, rye, and barley. If a person develops celiac disease, which is hereditary, it can lead to damage in the small intense. Celiac.org states that the disease is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide. If the disease remains undiagnosed, the affected person is at risk for long-term health complications. 

If a person has celiac disease, they should be looking for gluten-free products. What is celiac disease? When a person who has celiac disease eats products that contain gluten, their body sends out an immune response that attacks the small intestine. This attack damages the villi, which makes small finger-like projections that line the small intestine. When the villi is damaged, nutrients cannot be properly absorbed into the body. Celiac disease can develop at any age. If left undiagnosed or untreated, celiac disease can lead to long term health conditions such as:

Iron deficiency, lactose intolerance, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, infertility and miscarriage, gall bladder malfunction, early onset osteoporosis or osteopenia, pancreatic insufficiency, and more.

Most cases appear during middle infancy. The signs to look out for are possible chronic diarrhea, weight loss, fatigue, anemia, and osteoporosis. To diagnose celiac disease, they will take a sample tissue from the small bowel, via endoscopy. Blood tests may help in diagnosing the disease. If you feel like you may suffer from these symptoms but have been undiagnosed, have your doctor check to make sure.

There’s no cure for celiac disease. The only cure is to maintain a strict gluten-free diet. Avoid anything that may contain gluten. Most menus nowadays lists whether or not their foods contain gluten. In the event it isn’t labeled, don’t be shy about asking if there is any gluten products in their food. It may annoy your waiter or waitress, but be vocal about it, your health is at stake. 

For more information about celiac disease, please visit: http://celiac.org/

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