Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Gluten Sensitivities: Malabsorption of Nutrients Contribute to Issues of "Aging"

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!


Anonymous said...

Wheat and gluten can be a evil devils. Months after the on-set of uncontrollable diarhea, I found out I had a gluten sensitivity.

It just washed me out completely. Now that it is under control [finally diagnosed by a gastro MD]
I feel so well. I did not realize how weak and miserable it was making me until it stopped.

Anonymous said...

It's even harder to go gluten free when you are a diabetic. The medical profession does not have much advice since celiac is associated far more with type 1 diabetics than type 2s. Gluten free foods are frequently high carb, a no no for me. I found a bread that was gluten free, low carb and over $5. Tho it was supposedly good for a year after opening, it molded on me after I had eaten about three slices. And would only work used for grilled cheese, was very dry. And so it goes.


Cindy Marteney, CEO, Our Health Co-op said...

Yes, gluten-free diets are low in fiber, which causes carbs to spike blood sugar. My own learning has been to rely less on the gluten-free breads and pastas and opt for more high-fiber veggies, legumes, and protein/fiber shakes for more of my calories.
Thinking of you and all my gluten sensitive readers! Warmly, Cindy