Did you know that less than 1% of the population meets the diagnostic criteria to be labeled as a Celiac? But what about those individuals who don’t make the cut, yet still have most, if not all of the same symptoms? Well, for many years, doctors commonly referred patients who claimed to be having Celiac/gluten-like sensitivities to psychiatrists. It’s true. They were believed to be, and were often told they had an underlying mental illness. My mother became a perfect case study for me in my early 30’s, when I too began having health concerns. After suffering from many (and I mean many) recurrent chronic health issues, my mom finally went to see a gastroenterologist. It was to be her last stop in a long line of medical offices. But not for the reasons you’d think.
After listening to her litany of symptoms, the doctor looked at her and said, “I know you think you’re allergic to gluten. But you are not a Celiac, because people with Celiac’s Disease are skinny. However, I think you might benefit from seeing a Psychiatrist.” Nice. Even after she explained how much better she felt after staying away from gluten, the doctor still dismissed her as a hypochondriac, (as most of them had). Opting not to take it personally, she stayed away from gluten. And guess what? Most of her symptoms went away. Gluten is simply a protein found in wheat and many other grains such as barley and rye, and is only one of 27 different potential wheat allergens.
So what if it was a case of mistaken identity? What if the culprit wasn’t gluten, but it was actually the wheat itself? An English study in 1980 found that women suffering from chronic diarrhea were cured by a gluten free diet, yet none of those women had evidence of Celiac disease, a gastrointestinal autoimmune disorder. The notorious protein gluten is one potential allergen, but there are more than two-dozen others in the wheat plant itself that have either been implicated in allergic reactions, or have been identified as potential causes of allergic reactions.
When you have a true wheat allergy, you suffer near-immediate or slightly delayed (by no more than a few hours) symptoms following a meal that includes wheat products. Symptoms are often seen as respiratory in nature (stuffy nose, wheezing). However, people with wheat allergies and Celiac’s do suffer from many of the same things:
- Pain in the abdomen or joints
- Burning in the chest
- Belching, diarrhea, fat in stool, indigestion, nausea,vomiting, or flatulence
- Bone loss, fatigue, or malnutrition
- Delayed puberty, or slow growth
- Cramping, lactose intolerance, itchy rash,hives, or weight loss
- Swelling, itching, or irritation of the mouth or throat
- Hives,itchy rash, or swelling of the skin
- Nasal congestion
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Difficulty breathing
- Cramping, nausea, or vomiting