Since my 30's, I knew I was sensitive to gluten. It makes me sneeze within less than a half hour after eating offending foods.
What I never knew is how much eating wheat (and others foods containing gluten) affects absorption of essential nutrients. Eating bread, pizza, or pasta seemed like a trivial sin with a small price to pay, namely some sneezing and a slow start the following morning.
With an autoimmune diagnosis last fall, I've been on a gluten-free diet for close to six months, and I've continued to learn more about gluten intolerance and gluten-free living, even though I am not a celiac disease patient.
Turns out the seemingly minor sin of eating foods with gluten exacts a much higher price with malabsorption issues when one is sensitive to gluten. When tiny, finger-like villi responsible for absorbing nutrients in the small intestines become inflamed, due to immune system reactivity to gluten, nutritional uptake decreases.
Calcium and folate absorption suffers when gluten damage affects the upper part of the small intestine. Absorption of macronutrients-- like protein, carbohydrates, and fats--along with fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K becomes a problem when damage from gluten progresses further in the small intestinal tract.
Many conditions associated with aging start with some level of gluten intolerance, unbeknownst to those who suffer or their health care practitioners. For example, dyspepsia is twice as likely in celiac patients over the general population. Women with celiac disease have been found to have significantly lower bone calcium content than control subjects without celiac disease. Most people don't know that "osteoporosis is considered a relatively frequent atypical presentation of CD" (celiac disease). It makes sense though: an inflamed small intestine cannot absorb enough calcium or vitamin D to build bones effectively.
Dermatitis herpetiformis is clinically a form of celiac disease and is often misdiagnosed as eczema, contact dermatitis, or psoriasis, skin conditions which present as a rash on the elbows, knees, buttocks, and also on the neck, upper back, scalp, and hairline. I know, not a pretty picture, but many people you know could be helped by identifying gluten as the root cause of their itchy, inflamed skin.
Meanwhile, it's a vicious cycle story when malabsorption is in play. Supplementation may not even be so helpful when the small intestines have been damaged. Only healing the gut with a gluten-free diet will remedy long-standing nutritional deficiencies. Improvements can start within days with healing taking from 6 months to 2 years, depending on severity of damage.
It's not easy to go gluten free but it is getting easier with increased choices within the gluten-free foods category. If you decide to go gluten-free to improve your own uptake of nutrients, I am here to cheer you on, as I've found my own efforts quite rewarding!