brown rice plant

What’s This About Gluten?

It was my cousin who was laughing on Facebook.

“They’ve taken this whole fad way too far! Now they’re selling gluten-free dog food! Idiots!”  

Admittedly it looks ridiculous. As far as I know, dogs do not get celiac disease. But the people feeding dogs that handle the dog food do.

I should know.

Allergies, Celiac & Gluten Sensitivities

People’s reactions to gluten differ.  Most people the world around enjoy wheat products from baguettes to baozi with no effects other than a happy mouth and a satisfied stomach.  There’s gluten in licorice candy and there’s gluten in beer.  All wonderful stuff.  

But for a small percent of the population, gluten can cause serious medical conditions.  

There are wheat allergies which may or may not be related to gluten (there are lots of proteins in wheat). Symptoms tend to sound like, ‘I ate that sandwich and now my nose is all stuffed up and my skin itches, and I’m having a little trouble breathing.’

A serious problem but one that might not be gluten related.  It varies from individual to individual. A ‘gluten-free’ diet (ie. avoiding all wheat in your diet) usually makes an allergy to wheat better.   

Then there is part of the population who suffer from a spectrum of gluten-related disorders. These range from non-celiac wheat sensitivity to full-bore celiac disease.

People with non-celiac wheat sensitivity range from 0.4 to 13% of the general population (these numbers are controversial in part because of fad dieting). Symptoms of non-celiac sensitivity tend to include bloating, dermatitis and -rarely – neurological problems.

Celiac disease affects 0.5 to 1% of the general population. Someone with celiac (me for instance) can get ahold of a wheat-bread crumb from a toaster and have bloody diarrhea for ten days.  Yes.  I said it. ‘Bloody diarrhea.’

Celiac isn’t ‘I feel a little bloated.’ It’s ‘I got glutened.’ (Gluten is a verb now!)  I’m having a bad day and my intestinal lining is sloughing off like I have a serious intestinal virus or maybe a parasitic worm.

The long-term consequences of celiac disease can be pretty savage. You have trouble absorbing certain vitamins and minerals for days, perhaps years at a time. Undiagnosed celiac disease can lead (among other things) to muscle fatigue, hair turning grey, hair falling out, dermatitis, general inflammation of the joints and tendons, and loss of night vision.

Oh. And electrolyte imbalance and dehydration. Remember the diarrhea? For a week or a month. It can make you really sick. Those are the consequences and why folks with celiac have to be extremely careful.  

Celiac is an auto-immune disease – like diabetes or lupus. Because it’s an auto-immune disease, it means every time your body is exposed to gluten, your immune system starts attacking your body.

Therefore – and this is important – chronic exposure to gluten can make things worse over time

Once you know you have it (when your Doctor tests you and confirms it) and the faster you shift to a life-long gluten-free diet, the better off you are. 

If you were lucky enough to detect it early before it has done too much long-term damage, that’s great. But once diagnosed you need to address the disease regardless of how much work it is and how much grief you may get from people about your ‘new fad diet.’

“Maybe I’ll just have a sip of your beer,” or “I’m going to try to cut down on bread consumption for a while,” is not going to do it.

So, dog food?  Yeah, I’m glad to pay a little premium for the gluten-free brand rather than having to don a Haz-Mat suit to feed my dog.

In upcoming post I’ll be discussing more specific details about celiac disease with regards to migraines, as well as the many sneaky hiding places for gluten in a North American diet. 

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