Gluten Allergy and Physical Symptoms: The Importance of Gluten Allergy Testing by Cathie Lippman, MD

The easiest way for someone to make this determination is to avoid gluten grains for a few months to see if they feel better. There are also blood tests and some other forms of testing.

What is gluten allergy and why is it such a hot topic?

There are certain grains—wheat, spelt, rye, kamut, and barley—that contain a protein called gluten. Although oat is technically not a gluten grain, there is concern that the United States oat crop has been contaminated by gluten. The gluten protein can cause allergic reactions in some individual and become a serious intestinal irritant.

Some individuals inherit a disorder called celiac disease and cannot tolerate any gluten protein. The effect for these individuals has been described as "taking a rake to the insides of the intestines." They are unable to digest food or absorb nutrients and thus can become terribly ill. Damage to the intestines can increase sensitivities to many common foods negatively affecting the individual's diet and health.

A common misconception is that gluten allergy causes only digestive symptoms. The reality is that gluten allergy can cause any symptoms such as insomnia, eczema, asthma, headaches, palpitations, anxiety, depression, learning difficulties and many others.

There is also a wide range of symptom severity. The inherited, severe form is known as celiac disease where gluten is a constant major irritation. An uninhibited, milder form develops gradually through overuse of antibiotics, overeating of sugar, multiple surgeries, and inadequate diets containing few nutrients to name a few provocations.

Individuals exhibiting gluten allergy symptoms, or any symptom for that matter, would be wise first to determine if they are sensitive to gluten grains before undergoing a course of prescription and over-the-counter drugs which often include undesired side effects.

The easiest way for someone to make this determination is to avoid gluten grains for a few months to see if they feel better. There are also blood tests and some other forms of testing. Unfortunately, the common test for gluten antibodies has been undependable in that some persons who tested negative were later found to be sensitive to gluten.

In our modern world, gluten-free grains are so readily available that no one needs to feel deprived if gluten should be excluded from their diet.