A woman's journey to a gluten-free lifestyle.
MY DILEMMA I recently got out of a painful, long-term love affair—with bread. For years, I was a “gluten” for punishment. You wouldn’t think that gluten—that sticky protein found in grains like wheat, barley, oats and rye—would present a problem for a pasta-loving Italian girl. But the bloating, pain and indigestion that followed my nonna’s lasagna and lemon cake began to take its toll. Something had to give—or, in my case, be given up.
THE LINGO First, a word of warning: Gluten-related terminology is confusing. “Gluten intolerance is an umbrella term that refers to three different conditions: gluten sensitivity, gluten/wheat allergy and celiac disease,” explains Dr. Mohsin Rashid,a gastroenterologist and an associate professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax. “With a sensitivity, people experience symptoms but don’t generate IgE antibodies when exposed to gluten like they do if they have an allergy. In both cases, their intestine isn’t damaged and they may outgrow their intolerance. With celiac disease, they generate tTG antibodies and the villi in their small intestine are damaged. This is a permanent disorder, and the only treatment is a lifelong gluten-free diet.”
THE TESTS “One way to determine if you’re intolerant to gluten is to remove it from your diet and pay attention to any changes in your symptoms,” says Rashid. “Then, after a few weeks, if you eat something with gluten and you feel worse, you most likely have an intolerance.” To determine what kind of intolerance, see your physician to find out if you should get a blood test for anti bodies and/or a biopsy of your intestine to rule out celiac disease. “It’s important to be tested before you go on a gluten-free diet because, other wise, the tTG levels may be negative and the biopsy may be normal,” says Rashid.
THE RISKS Bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea and headaches are the most common symptoms of a gluten intolerance, says Rashid. And, though that slice of birthday cake may look harmless, those with celiac disease who stray from a gluten-free lifestyle are at risk of becoming anemic because the damaged bowel can’t absorb iron, folic acid and other vitamins and, over time, can develop osteoporosis or bowel cancer. and I called it quits.