Friday, May 12, 2017

Is Gluten Allergy Even Real?!

Have you ever seen labels at grocery stores claiming to be gluten free on items ranging from certain crackers to ketchup and wondered what gluten really is-- a made up word from marketing experts to start yet another diet fad or a legitimate condition?

Truth is, gluten is a protein found within wheat, barley, and rye (grains that are surprisingly found a wide variety of foods). Many of us do not have the enzymes to completely break down this protein, which often remains undigested in our gut. For those of us who are gluten tolerant, these peptides or pieces of proteins are eliminated. However, for those who are gluten intolerant, the peptides are dangerous to the body, because they may cross our intestinal barrier and cause the immune system to attack the villi of the intestine that are important for absorbing nutrients. Hence, this autoimmune disease may eventually lead to malabsorption which can be very serious.

The truest label of gluten intolerance is known as celiac disease, which affects 1 in 133 individuals though up to 85% have yet to be diagnosed.  Both genetic (1 in 10 people with affected close relatives are at risk) and environmental circumstances can play a role. The symptoms of celiac disease range from bloating, gas, diarrhea, weight loss, depression, abdominal pain, anemia, and with children, distended abdomen, dental defects, and failure to thrive. Sometimes, this disease may also cause dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) that can cause itchy blisters. The only known treatment is to have a gluten-free diet; taking probiotics is also encouraged. However, not all individuals who believe they are allergic to gluten may have celiac but are in fact allergic to other foods that may be associated with wheat or are victims of a "created disease" without an underlying biological condition. 

The problem today is that there is a significant rise in celiac disease. In the 1950s prevalence of the disease was approximately 0.2%. Today, however, this number has grown to 1% which may not seem large but statistically is 3 million people out of 300 million individuals. According to Dr. Guandalini in an interview with University of Chicago, this rise may be attributed to the extreme cleanliness many children born in the United States are accustomed to. This hygiene hypothesis suggests that babies are not exposed to the same level of antigens and bacteria as in the past. Consequently, our gut immune system  responds in a autoimmune or allergic fashion.
What is your opinion concerning combating this disease in our every day life?

Meghana Pisupati
IMS 2017

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