Gluten-free products, everywhere you turn.
But is it just a fad, a marketing gimmick, or something seniors really need to worry about? The answer is a definite maybe. True celiac sprue disease is fairly rare, occurring in about 1% of the general population. It’s triggered by genetics, certain autoimmune diseases and other factors, and for a long time doctors believed this was the only concern with the gluten protein found in wheat, rye and barley.
Celiac sprue disease can be diagnosed by a simple blood test, and total abstention from gluten-containing foods is required to reduce or eliminate the broad spectrum of physical and neurological symptoms that the disease can cause.
Lately, however, it’s widely believed that people without this specific disorder can also have a reaction to these grains. This syndrome is called non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or NCGS. It’s not well established that gluten itself is the problem—other proteins called ATIs and a family of chemicals known as FODMAPS have been implicated. And there’s no doubt that a lot of money is changing hands in the form of publications, expert advice, and product sales—but it’s also a fact that many people have reported benefits from eliminating gluten from their diets.
A wide range of symptoms are associated with NCGS. If you suffer from one or more of these conditions and have been unable to pin down a reason, it would be worth your while to consider NCGS as a cause.
Gastrointestinal symptoms include:
The list of non-gastric symptoms associated with NCGS is so long that it’s the source of much of the controversy around gluten sensitivity today.
A partial list includes:
With such a wide variety of symptoms attributed to gluten sensitivity, it makes sense to be skeptical. However, there’s no harm in asking your doctor whether a simple test would be appropriate to see if you would benefit from a change in your diet.
The test for gluten sensitivity is a simple one: completely eliminate gluten from your diet for a period of at least four weeks. See if any chronic symptoms are lessened or eliminated. Then challenge your body with a gluten-rich diet to see if symptoms return. While it’s impossible to rule out the placebo effect, you can’t argue with positive results.
It’s easier than it’s ever been to test for NCGS. These days gluten-free options are widely available, whether you are dining out or preparing meals for yourself or your family. If you are having meals prepared by an assisted living or long-term care facility, talk to the dietician or nutritionist on staff about gluten-free options. It’s a little trickier to eliminate gluten-based binders and inactive ingredients from common medications, but your doctor and pharmacist can help you find options.
Bottom Line: Despite questions about the science, many people have reported positive health benefits from eliminating gluten from their diets. If you suffer from puzzling chronic symptoms, there’s no harm in trying it for yourself.
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