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Wheat could be your enemy

Have frequent ailments which are never-ending and can’t find a cure for them? You could be suffering from an auto-immune disease called celiac disease or wheat allergy.

india Updated: May 09, 2011 13:54 IST
Priyanka Monga

Have frequent ailments which are never-ending and can’t find a cure for them? You could be suffering from an auto-immune disease called celiac disease or wheat allergy.

The symptoms of the disease range from mal-absorption, malnutrition, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), stomach ache, chronic diarrhoea, anaemia or lethargy. And if you experience any of these more often than normal, chances are that you could be gluten intolerant, gluten sensitive or could be suffering from celiac disease.

What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is the scientific term for gluten allergy which is caused due to sensitivity to wheat or wheat based products and certain other cereals like rye, barley, oats and spelt. More commonly known as wheat allergy, it is caused due to hypersensitivity to gliadins or glutelins found in wheat grains that are not soluble in water which give wheat dough its elastic texture.

Once known as the disease of the west, it’s not just children but adults too, who are affected with niggling symptoms for years, which are either not diagnosed or not taken seriously by them.

Celiac conditions have become more prevalent in India with the growing awareness of the disease. But it still has not received the required attention in our country — with approximately 1% of the population diagnosed with this allergy. Ishi Khosla, clinical nutritionist and author of the book, Is Wheat Killing you?, says “The challenge with celiac disease is the dire need to create an awareness amongst people and how every celiac individual comes with a different symptom presentation.”

Understanding the allergy
When food-containing gluten is consumed by a celiac individual, it is broken down in the stomach and passes through the small intestine. The intestine then produces an immune reaction causing inflammatory damage. This causes symptoms such as prolonged or recurrent diarrhoea, poor weight gain, bloated tummy, irritability, malnutrition, recurrent abdominal pain, constipation, anaemia, short stature, delayed puberty, osteoporosis, infertility, hepatitis, skin rash etc.

Dr Pankaj Vohra, Max Healthcare advises, “If there are some recurrent symptoms which are not standard, then any individual should consider consulting a doctor for tests meant for celiac disease.”

Also, it is not necessary that you have celiac disease when faced with these symptoms. It is likely that you may be gluten intolerant or gluten insensitive but not have celiac disease. But all individuals who have celiac disease are gluten intolerant or have gluten sensitivity. So, it is advised to consult a specialist doctor (gastroentologists) for a thorough check up.

How to tackle it?
It is imperative to get this disease diagnosed at an early stage. Khosla suggests, “Simple blood tests, followed by biopsy are enough to make a diagnosis.” Vohra opines, “Once the gluten allergy is confirmed, you need to start taking precautions as prescribed by your doctor or nutritionists.”

Some other facts
* You cannot outgrow this disease and it requires lifelong management, so proper diet counselling is required. Consult a gastroentologist or a nutritionist.
* The best way is to avoid gluten as a protein which is found in various products such as toothpastes, lipsticks, soya sauce, beer and many other edible products. So every time you try a new product, even if a cosmetic one, ask if it has got a high wheat concentration.
* Figure out stores that stock stuff which is gluten free. There are various brands and stores selling gluten-free products in the market. But you need to be a well-informed consumer before purchasing any gluten-free products. Always consult a doctor before you buy any food products that are sold as gluten free as your requirements can be different from some other patients’.
* The condition of such hypersensitivity has a genetic pre-disposition. It is likely to run in families, so other members should go through the tests too.