Photo credit: Cody Neuenschwander
It has been roughly seven years since Jessica Grote heard the words “you need to go on a gluten-free diet.”
Grote, a senior a Concordia Lutheran High School, said her diagnosis was a difficult process. She said she had not been feeling great for a while and her doctor could not figure out why.
She was then instructed, by her doctor, to go on an “intense gluten diet.” Grote said this diet consisted of food with high wheat content. She ate foods like whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat noodles – if it had wheat – she ate it, she said.
During this diet, Grote said she experienced some of the most severe symptoms she had ever had.
At the peak of these symptoms, her doctor administered a blood test and then instructed her to go off gluten completely.
A few weeks after the intense diet, Grote’s symptoms subsided and she felt better than she ever had before.
Grote’s blood test came back showing results that showed gluten intolerances and was then diagnosed with gluten intolerance.
Grote was diagnosed in the fifth grade and has not consumed gluten since.
Issues regarding gluten and its affect on the body have been in the “hot seat” for a while, but there are many misconceptions regarding these issues.
What even is gluten? According to livescience.com, gluten is composed of two different proteins: gliadin and glutenin. These proteins are found in the wheat endosperm, a tissue produced in seeds that are ground out to make flour.
Sara Mathes, RDN, said there are two main categories to gluten issues: gluten intolerance, also known as celiac disease, and gluten sensitivity. She said one of the main misconceptions of people is that there is not a difference between gluten intolerance and gluten sensitivity.
The main difference between the two categories, gluten intolerance (celiac disease) and gluten sensitivity, is that those affected by celiac disease have a set of antibodies in their blood along with extreme intestinal damage.
In 2012, a group of researchers in Norway developed this standard that separates the two terms and defines each.
According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, 1 in 133 Americans has celiac disease.
The NFCA defines celiac disease as a genetic autoimmune disease. It affects the villi of the small intestine and prevents the proper absorption of nutrients.
According to the NFCA, 18 million Americans have gluten sensitivity.
The NFCA defines non-celiac gluten sensitivity as an innate immune response, much like an allergic reaction.
Mathes said another common misconception by people is that gluten is only found in wheat.
“Remember the acronym, B.R.O.W.,” Mathes said. “Barley, rye, oats, and wheat.”
Mathes said oats do not originally contain gluten, but many factories that produce oats have cross contamination with gluten products. Mathes said cross contamination is a huge problem for the individuals with celiac disease.
She said B.R.O.W. helps people with both celiac disease and gluten sensitivity because it is easy to remember. Upon being diagnosed with either celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, Mathes said she hands her patient a huge binder. Inside the binder is a detailed list of everything inedible for the affected patient.
“Instead of memorizing the specifics, B.R.O.W. makes it easy for people to be able to read ingredients and feel confident on whether or not they should consume a product,” Mathes said.
Mathes said the symptoms of both celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are quite similar. The symptoms include, but are not limited to, the following: bloating, gas, fatigue, diarrhea, constipation and joint pain.
She said most gluten sensitive individuals will notice peaks and pits of their symptoms, while those affected by celiac disease are in constant struggle with symptoms.
Mathes said there is a huge issue with cross contamination with gluten-free products and gluten products.
“Some people are so intolerant they cannot use the same toaster a person had once placed gluten-rich bread in,” Mathes said.
There are also many day-to-day products that contain gluten- it is not just food items.
“I am not going to be concerned with my toothpaste, my deodorant or my hairspray… I’m just not,” Deb Fulton, a sufferer of gluten sensitivity, said. “You have to draw the line somewhere.”
Fulton was diagnosed with gluten sensitivity five ago. She said she experienced issues with digestion but also a huge part of her symptoms dealt with her fatigue and joint pain.
She said she just did not feel well and was sick of not feeling well so she went to a doctor to figure out why.
When she was diagnosed with gluten sensitivity she said she started cutting gluten out, but knew it would be near impossible to go without it completely.
“If I am putting in 90% effort in cutting out gluten products then I think I am doing just fine,” Fulton said. “But, sometimes I find myself asking if the pizza really worth it.”
According to the NFCA, if a person feels like they may be experiencing issues with gluten the NFCA suggests seeing a doctor and not self-diagnosing. They said receiving professional help is the quickest way to start feeling better.
“Though I miss the fluffiness of breads and pastries, I would not change my new restricted diet for anything,” Grote said. “I feel better than ever!”