What Is Gluten Intolerance?

Gluten Intolerance signs and symptoms

Gluten intolerance is a condition disconcerting millions of individuals across the globe and they are striving to understand and know the disease. Gluten is made up of two types of proteins namely glutenin and gliadin. One has to clearly understand that gluten is not a protein itself but a composite of proteins found in wheat, rye and barley. To be more precise, gluten in wheat is made up of glutenin and gliadin, in rye as secalin and in barley as hordein. These proteins belong to family of prolamins and give elasticity to the final product.

Gluten intolerance is a condition, wherein the body produces certain antibodies against the proteins and thereby weakens the small intestine. As a result of the production of antibodies the villous (small hair like structures) lining the upper wall of small intestine gets inflamed and in turn restricts the absorption of nutrients from the food eaten.

The signs and symptoms of gluten intolerance manifest in 3 different stages. The initial signs and symptoms include disturbances in the gastrointestinal tract. An individual intolerant to gluten will initially complain of diarrhea, constipation, vomiting and abdominal cramps upon consumption of wheat based food. The other symptoms of gluten intolerance include intestinal gas formation, abdominal distention, abdominal bloating, foul smelling and fatty stools.

How to Test for Gluten Intolerance

Symptoms Gluten Intolerance

Followed by gastric disturbances, the symptoms of malabsorption set in. Malabsorption is bound to occur in individuals suffering from gluten intolerance due to the incapability of the small intestine to absorb nutrients from the food digested. Some of the most essentials nutrients are calcium and iron and when these are poorly absorbed manifest several disease conditions. The common symptoms of malabsorption include weight loss, fatigue, difficulty in concentration, depression, etc.
Apart from gastric disorders and malabsorption syndrome, there are several other symptoms that accompany gluten intolerance; they are appearance of acne, anemia due to improper absorption of iron from food, osteoporosis due to lack of calcium, heartburn, acid reflux, asthma, breathing problems, short stature, dental problem, hair loss and lactose intolerance to name a few. Several essential minerals and vitamins required for tissue maintenance are also poorly absorbed by the damaged small intestine.

People suffering from gluten intolerance may often be diagnosed with dermatitis herpetiformis. This is a skin disorder, which occurs due to the deposition of the antibodies beneath the first layer of the skin. As a result of this, the person experiences itchy skin, skin rashes, etc. Dermatitis herpetiformis commonly appears near the regions of elbow, knees, buttocks, face, scalp and shoulders.

The several other signs and symptoms of gluten intolerance include infertility in females, bruising, bleeding of the nose, mental health disorders, hair loss, migraines, eating disorders, neuropathy, numbness, tingling sensation in the hands and legs. Some individuals may also complain of insomnia and difficulty in sleeping.

Some of the other manifestations of gluten intolerance in females include delayed menarche, infertility, irregular menstruation and anemia. Pregnant women have a difficult time in dealing with gluten intolerance and experience frequent miscarriages. Such women may also give birth to low birth weight babies. Due to poor absorption of nutrients, the host system becomes weak and is more prone to infections of the vagina and urinary tract.

If gluten intolerance is not treated in time then it may lead to serious deleterious conditions and cause irreversible conditions. Women who suffer from gluten intolerance during pregnancy should immediately seek medical advice as they can give birth to autistic babies.

Avoiding gluten is quite challenging. Gluten is common food additive, often used in small amounts to enhance texture and taste in food processing.  Digestive enzyme supplements can help but for gluten sensitivity and intolerance, it takes a specific combinations of enzymes. Some enzymes are inactivated by by pepsin and acidic pH present in the stomach. Therefore these enzymes will not be able to degrade gluten before it reaches the small intestine, the site where gluten induces inflammatory T cell response.

Digestion of certain protein found in gluten, casein (found in dairy products), soy and possibly other foods requires an enzyme activity known as DPP IV (dipeptidyl peptidase IV) which needs to be present in along with at least two other general types of protease.

DPP IV Enzyme Activity Breaks Down Gluten

Digestive enzymes have been used successfully for gluten intolerance, allowing some people to completely eliminate gluten free diet.  Others use enzymes only occasionally when they eat food containing gluten, such as special gatherings or as an occasional treat. For those few occasions it is wise to  consider supplementation with DPP IV, which helps digest gluten.

Gluten-free diet may lead to decrease of friendly intestinal bacteria

Spanish National  Research Council conducted a small study on ten volunteers consuming a  gluten-free diet for a month.  They noticed that the population of beneficial intestinal bacteria such as Bifidobactrium and Lactobacillus decreased, while counts of Escherichia coli and  Enterobactericeae (bad bacteria) increased. The researchers analyzed the intestinal micro-flora  of the volunteers and found that the markers of immune health, such as TNF-alpha, interferon-gamma, interleukin-10 and IL-8, which would be produced when host’s immune system is challenged, were also reduced following consumption of the gluten fee diet. Therefore, managing gluten intolerance with supplemental enzymes if at all possible would be preferable to a completely gluten-free diet that would reduce beneficial intestinal  micro-flora. It  would be wise for those who follow a gluten-free diet  to take a high potency pro-biotic supplement daily.