Mandan News

Gluten-free diet fad

Concerning Your Health
By Dr. Thomas Thorson

Why are so many Hollywood stars going gluten free?
Gluten-free diets appear to be another current fad. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Grains containing gluten are important components in a well-balanced diet. Some people complain of gluten intolerance, which can cause cramping and other digestive disorders. A smaller number of people may suffer from a serious disorder known as Celiac Disease. These individuals need to completely eliminate gluten from their diets.

What is Celiac Disease?
This digestive disorder causes intestinal problems when gluten is consumed. The gluten damages the small intestine, preventing the body from taking in many of the nutrients from foods consumed as well as vitamins and minerals.

What are the symptoms of Celiac Disease?
Celiac Disease, which can affect people of all ages, causes different symptoms at different times making it difficult to diagnose. Common digestive symptoms in infants and young children include abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea (even bloody diarrhea) and constipation. The child may even fail to grow, become malnourished, and be irritable and emotionally withdrawn. Malnourished children may have a large tummy, thin thigh muscles and flat buttocks. By the teens, children may be shorter than average and experience hair loss and dental problems. Adults generally complain of combined symptoms that may include fatigue, irritability, joint or bone pain, digestive disorders, and anxiety and depression. Adults with Celiac Disease often develop osteoporosis and/or anemia. Anyone of any age who is diagnosed with Celiac Disease is also likely to experience issues such as itchy skin, canker sores and lactose intolerance (inability to digest milk products).

Who gets Celiac Disease?
Celiac Disease is primarily hereditary. Life happenings such as severe trauma or stress, infection, childbirth and surgery can increase the risk of developing this disease.

How would I know if I have Celiac Disease or if I’m just gluten intolerant?
If you think you may have either of these conditions, make an appointment with your primary care doctor. Do not stop eating gluten before your appointment because that can jeopardize accurate test results. Blood tests and outpatient endoscopic examinations are used to diagnose Celiac Disease. If your blood test indicates the likelihood of Celiac Disease, your doctor will order an intestinal biopsy, which conclusively confirms the diagnosis. This biopsy is a simple outpatient procedure.

How is Celiac Disease treated?
The best treatment for Celiac Disease is to eliminate all gluten from the diet. Doing so will decrease your symptoms and reverse damage that has been caused in your intestine. Your doctor will help you make this lifestyle change. Many products contain gluten, so it’s important that you get professional assistance. You will need to learn to read labels carefully, cook differently and live differently. Most grocery stores carry gluten-free products. With a proper diet, you will feel good again and your body will heal.

Thomas Thorson, MD, is a board certified family medicine physician at Sanford East Mandan Clinic. A graduate of the University of North Dakota School of Medicine at Grand Forks, Dr. Thorson completed his residency at the University of North Dakota Center for Family Medicine in Bismarck. He is proficient in Spanish and has special medical interests in mental health, chronic disease management and preventative care.