Now a days being gluten free is very much a trend. People saying they are gluten free but don’t even know what gluten is…. and some people are gluten free just when they want to be and with certain foods. They will buy gluten free bread and gluten free oats and pasta but then still drink beer, eat soja sauce and time to time eat desserts and baked goods with gluten.
If you want to know what gluten is and whether it is healthy or not, read my post HERE.
If you were to talk to someone who has celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disease and they are forced to avoid all gluten. (Some can digest up to a crumb size of gluten without feeling symptoms, but it can still effect their small intestines). Many with celiac disease wish they didn’t have the illness as it affects their intake so much and they can’t just have a day where they don’t care about gluten free food, because not only will they feel symptoms but it is also damaging to their intestines.
To be diagnosed with celiac disease you need to do tests at your doctor and it is recommended that you DON’T cut out gluten until you have been diagnosed. And if you have cut out gluten and you want to be tested for celiac disease, then you will need to start eating gluten products again for a while before you can get tested. (This is so that they can see the autoimmune response and whether you have antibodies/allergens against gluten). (2)
I am not going to get so much into celiac disease as it is an autoimmune illness, but i thought i would talk about the difference between celiac disease and gluten intolerance. And then write about gluten intolerance vs IBS.
(Note there is also a thing called gluten allergy, but i am not going to mention that in this post).
Celiac disease vs gluten intolerance:
So first off, celiac disease is an illness where gluten actually harms the small villi/microvilli (they absorbed nutrients from your small intestine). So eating gluten when you have celiac disease is actually harmful. In the long term undiagnosed celiac disease can lead to malnutrition, anemia, extreme fatigue, weightloss, infertility and even behavioural changes. The only real treatment for celiac disease is to avoid gluten completely. (1)
Whereas gluten intolerance, the main symptoms come from your large intestine and eating gluten doesn’t actually cause any harm, even if the symptoms may not be so nice. As gluten intolerance isn’t so well studied and researchers still don’t really know what may cause the intolerance, there seems to be no long term consequences… aside from maybe mental distress from the pain you feel or missing out on social events/social life because of pain or gas or bloating.
You can take tests to see if you have celiac disease, but also you need to have the genes to have the illness i.e if you don’t have the genes you can’t have the illness. Whereas gluten intolerance, or IBS there are no tests to diagnose the sensitivity. It is just an elimination process and you need to track your food intake over a period of time and see what helps or makes the symptoms go away.
Both celiac disease and gluten intolerance can give the same type of symptoms such as cramping, diarrhea or constipation, headaches, fatigue etc which is why it can be easy to jump to the conclusion that you have celiac disease, without getting tested. (Note, the same symptoms can occur if you have IBS.)
What about IBS?
There seems to be alot of research about IBS and i would need to do several weeks of reserach and write a whole book to explain it all, but IBS is a sort of elimination illness. When there are symptoms and pain when eating or when eating gluten, but nothing that can cause the pain shows up in tests. I.e there is no test to be done to diagnose IBS.
There are 3 types of IBS.
IBS-C (i.e mostly constipation along with other symptoms)
IBS-D (i.e mostly diaherra along with other symptoms)
IBS-CD (Alternating between constipation and diaherra)
Many people can alternate between these types of IBS.
IBS can often be linked with stress or anxiety. There is extra movement in the large intestine which causes bloating and gas and uncomfortable feelings.
Doctors still don’t really know what causes IBS, however there seems to be a link between the messages your brain sends to your large intestine which can cause the digestive issues. Also stress has been seen to make IBS symptoms worse, even if stress isn’t the cause of IBS. (3)
Also symptoms can be worse during or before your menstrual cycle if you have one. Also many girls can self diagnose IBS when they infact have endometriosis (a condition/disease resulting from the appearance of endometrial tissue outside the uterus). The symptoms of IBS and endometriosis can be very similar, however both conditions can take a long time to diagnose. (4)
There is no physical long term physical consequences of IBS, however it can definitely impact the quality of your life if you are constantly suffering from stomach pain, bloating, gas and constipation and/or diaherra. Also it can lead to weightloss or malnourishment if you begin to fear eating due to the pain or symptoms it may cause. Also it can limit the things you do in life which can then affect your mental health and leave you feeling lonely as you can’t socialize the way you want to. But also it can leave you feeling frustrated and angry to never get a real diagnosis or help with IBS.
One of the main treatments for IBS is to try to follow FODMAP (Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides and Polyols) diet, i’ll explain below and maybe write a post more in detail of the FODMAP diet. (I have also tried eating FODMAP vegan as part of an assignment in school, so i can write about that as well.) There is also advice to try to eat in a calm place with no stress, to be mindful when eating and not stress eat as well as it being recommended to eat smaller portions more frequent rather than big portions few times a day.
Many who say they are sensitive to gluten may not actually be sensitive to gluten, but the carbohydrates from the products containing gluten. Many foods with gluten can have carbohydrate forms such as fructans and galactans which ferment in the large intestine which can cause bloating and gas. These carbohydrates are often found in vegetables, beans, wheat, rye, barley, legumes etc on the FODMAP diet it is also advised to avoid sweeteners (polyols), foods with lactose (I.e dairy products) and many fruits with fructose as those can cause gas and bloating. So to summarize…. when you have IBS, it may not be the gluten that causes the pain, but the fermentable carbohydrates which cause gas and bloating in your large intestine.
Many people with IBS feel better/less symptoms when following a FODMAP diet. It is not a long term diet, instead you follow it for a few weeks and then begin to slowly reintroduce certain foods back into your diet to see which ones give you symptoms and how much you can eat of certain foods.
I will write more about IBS and FODMAP in another post.
Even if there may be no real diagnosis for IBS, instead it is a process of elimination, don’t self diagnose yourself with the illness. Instead go to the doctor and get checked incase it is celiac disease or if it is an illness such as Chrons or ulceros Colit (typically, those illnesses will give more severe symptoms and they can be diagnosed via tests, but it is important to not self diagnose yourself with an illness.) Also note, even if you are given the IBS diagnosis, and you try following a FODMAP diet as well as the other tips and the symptoms still don’t go away, be persistent and keep doing tests incase it is something more serious.
There is so much i could write about these 3 conditions/illnesses, but to end with some final notes.
- You can have celiac disease without having any real symptoms for a long time, wheras you can’t have IBS without having the symptoms.
- Gluten free doesn’t mean healthier. Unless you have celiac disease, gluten isn’t unhealthy. HOWEVER, you may get symptoms from foods that contain gluten but then it may be the fermentable carbohydrates from the foods and not actually gluten.
- Gluten free products can often have less vitamins and fiber, have more sugar and be more expensive than regular non gluten-free products… so GF doesn’t mean better or healthier.
- If you find that you are suffering with alot of stomach pain, bloating, gas and discomfort seek professional care. Also recommended to write a food diary for several weeks as well as writing down your symptoms & when they are present to easier help with diagnosis.
- Take probiotics daily. Try not to stress eat, also anxiety or guilt around food can cause more stomach pain when eating. So it may not be IBS or any other illness, just your mental state causing physical pain when eating.
- Do you need to eat gluten? No, it is not a vital food/ingredient you need to eat. Just like with sugar and oil, it is not something you need in your diet. But as long as you aren’t allergic to it or have celiac disease it is ok to eat it…. however if you feel that you do get symptoms from certain foods with gluten, then don’t eat them. Just don’t be scared of eating gluten if there is no real illness towards it.
And lastly, there are IBS doctors and dietitians you can go to if you suffer from IBS or celiac disease, which i highly recommend you reach out to and try to get help so that you can make life better with less symptoms. Also there is quite alot about IBS but it is still rather “unknown”, not to mention that people can experience the symptoms differently and to different degrees, so i may not have written everything about IBS but just an overview regarding IBS and gluten.