Digestive problems affect 60 to 70 million Americans, so if you are one of those people, take heart that you are not alone. It is so common that I think people just believe that having digestive problems are just part of life.
I agree this can happen every once in a while to anyone. However, if you are having problems a few days a week, it might be time to get some advice from an expert, like your local naturopathic doctor.
It is possible that something that you are eating is actually creating the tummy trouble. Food allergies and food sensitivities are on the rise, or more specifically, correctly diagnosing food allergies and sensitivities is on the rise.
Food allergies and sensitivities can cause many digestive troubles and they can cause symptoms outside of the digestive system as well. Today one food sensitivity that is becoming well-known is a gluten sensitivity, or gluten intolerance.
Gluten sensitivity or intolerance, along with celiac disease, cause many symptoms in the digestive tract as well as health problems in other parts of the body. Some grains have proteins on the cell surface called gluten, and more specifically gliadin, which can trigger the immune response in the intestinal tract.
The immune system tries to neutralize the gliadin and instead damages the intestinal cells. It ruins the normal digestive tract and causes the digestive system to create pain and inflammation in the body. The damage can also cause nutrient deficiencies that may contribute to other symptoms in the body.
Celiac disease affects many people without them even realizing it, but there are some tests that can diagnose it. Gluten sensitivity is harder to diagnose because while you might have the same symptoms as celiac disease, the lab tests do not come back positive for celiac.
In cases of gluten sensitivity or intolerance, I treat the symptoms and suggest that you avoid gluten-containing foods as that usually improves the symptoms. Symptoms that you may report are feeling bad or fatigued, complaining of digestive complaints, or an inability to lose weight.
Other digestive symptoms may include chronic diarrhea or constipation, as well as pale, foul smelling stool that floats in the toilet bowl, along with abdominal discomfort, vomiting, odorous stools, gas and bloating.
Many symptoms occur in young children under the age of 5 years old. If you notice these symptoms in your child, ask to have them checked. Since there is a genetic component, if you have the problems with gluten do not feed it to your children either.
Symptoms outside of your digestive tract can be equally challenging and include general and constant fatigue, and anemia -- especially iron-deficiency. You might also experience weight loss or weight gain, bone pain, bone loss or osteoporosis, swelling in the body, joint pains, arthritis, canker sores in the mouth, and an itchy rash called dermatitis herpetiformis.
The nervous system can be affected with seizures, depression or anxiety, tingling or numbness in the hands and feet. These symptoms may occur is because of destruction of the digestive tract as you don’t absorb many of the nutrients you would normally get from your food.
There several menstrual related symptoms such as lack of a period, missed periods, recurrent miscarriages, and infertility. Children may exhibit a failure to thrive.
One of the difficulties of diagnosing celiac disease or gluten sensitivity is that the symptoms may show up and disappear periodically throughout your life. The variability of the symptoms make it hard to link it to food ingestion.
Celiac disease is also referred to as celiac sprue, nontropical sprue, and gluten-sensitive enteropathy. Celiac is almost always characterized by digestive symptom and other symptoms that start after the introduction of gluten-containing grains into the diet.
There is a strong genetic link for people that have celiac disease. If you are of European descent you are more likely to have the genetic marker associated with celiac disease. Celiac disease is also more common among people who have been diagnosed with Down syndrome or Turner syndrome.
Since the symptoms can involve so many parts of the body, it goes misdiagnosed very often. As a result of the misdiagnosis, many times people can live with symptoms for years before it gets properly diagnosed.
A good first step is to have a blood test run to check for antibodies in the blood. Antibodies are produced by the immune system to protect the body against things that cause damage to the body.
In general, start with anti-alpha-gliadin antibodies (AGA) or anti-tissue transglutaminase (tTGA) antibodies, or anti-endomysial antibodies (EMA). These antibodies are higher in patients that have celiac disease, and with high levels it is appropriate to start treatment for celiac.
The definitive test, however, is to perform an endoscope procedure to get intestinal tissue that has been damaged.
The treatment for celiac disease is very straightforward. All foods containing gluten, especially gliadin, must be eliminated from the diet. Once these foods are removed the intestine walls can begin to heal, and as long as these foods are not reintroduced the body will continue to heal and symptoms will be alleviated.
What are the foods that generally contain gluten and gliadin? All wheat, rye and barley products have gluten and gliadin. There are sources that recommend the elimination of oats as well.
For my patients, wheat seems to be one of the most difficult products to eliminate because that means most or all breads, pasta, pizza, and the like, from all mainstream establishments.
Wheat is also hidden in many other foods that people don’t think about, like soy sauce, salad dressings, gravies, canned soups, processed meats, reduced fat products, ice creams that have cookies in them, certain food colorings, and emulsifiers.
The list is amazingly long, and if you eat foods that you are not aware
have gluten or gliadin in them, you will continue to damage the intestinal wall and continue to have symptoms.
The good news is that there are products, and cookbooks for foods that are gluten-free that can make your life easier and help you become gluten- and gliadin-free!
Once you change your diet you body can start to heal from the damage gluten- containing products have caused, and you will start to feel better and become symptom free.
Dr. Dae is a Naturopathic Physician who practices in the Washington DC metro area. She treats the whole person, using safe and effective combinations of traditional and natural methods to produce optimal health and well-being in the lives of her patients.
" Digestive Diseases Statistics for the United States - National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse." Home - National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2012.
"Celiac disease - MayoClinic.com." Mayo Clinic. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2012.
"Celiac disease - sprue - PubMed Health." National Center for Biotechnology Information. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2012.
Reviewed April 12, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith