“I Tried a Gluten-Free Diet and Feel Better”

“I tried a gluten-free diet and feel better.” “I tried an elimination diet and feel better.” “I tried the Paleo diet and feel better.”

These are increasingly common statements that I hear across my desk. A few years ago, the statement was similar but different:

“I tried a low-carb diet and feel better.”

In fact, prior to being diagnosed with celiac, that is what I thought about myself. I felt that I just did better on a lower carb diet, which was strange for a runner.  I noticed that if I didn’t have pasta at dinner, I wasn’t bloated in the morning and that if I didn’t have cereal for breakfast, my energy better throughout the day. This phenomenon was the result of eating a lower gluten diet; I didn’t know at the time that I had celiac disease, I was just trying different ways of eating and my body was responding. Noticing how my body responded to a lower-carb diet helped me assert myself when perusing diagnostic testing for celiac disease. Now, I feel even better on a gluten-free, higher carb diet that is appropriate for my activity level.

Whenever someone tells me that they “feel better” on a low carb or gluten-free or Paleo diet I begin to wonder why. There is a lot of controversy surrounding grains in our diet and how much we need, or don’t need, for optimal health. I don’t have all the answers on that debate, however, I do know for certain that if you feel better on a lower gluten diet, you had better determine whether or not you have celiac disease, preferably before you’ve fully adapted the lower gluten diet.

What is celiac disease? (If you have celiac and already know all this stuff, scroll down, I have a question for you!)

Celiac disease is an autoimmune digestive disease that damages the small intestine when a person consumes gluten. Gluten is a protein in wheat, barley in rye. About 1 in 100 people have celiac disease, but 95% of those with celiac are undiagnosed. Gluten-free diets are popular right now, so there are a large number of people who are simply “trying out” gluten-free foods and stumbling onto a medically necessary diet that should be adapted for the long term.

Symptoms of celiac disease

Think you could have celiac? Here’s a list of symptoms of celiac. You may have one, two or ten of these symptoms. Everyone with celiac is different.

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Panic attacks
  • Personality and/or behavior changes
  • Poor memory and/or concentration
  • Intense appetite
  • Unintentional weight gain
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Irregular periods
  • Infertility, male and female
  • Recurrent miscarriages
  • Delayed puberty
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach grumbling
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Anemia related to iron and/or vitamin B12 and/or folate deficiencies
  • Sores inside your mouth
  • Cracks in the sides of lips
  • Frequent cavities, dental enamel abnormalities
  • Easy bruising
  • Nose bleeds
  • Failure to thrive in a child
  • Low blood calcium or magnesium
  • Muscle cramps
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty seeing at night or at dusk
  • Sensitivity to bright light
  • Pale appearance
  • Changes in tongue
  • Tingling in extremities
  • Vitamin D deficiency or iron deficiency that is unresponsive to supplementation
  • Arthritis, rheumatoid
  • Joint pain
  • Bone pain
  • Dermatitis herpetiformis, an itchy rash
  • Hypothyroid
  • Osteoporosis or osteopenia
  • Elevated liver function tests
  • Migraines
  • IBS
  • Sjorgren’s
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Peripheral neuropathy, which is a tingling in your extremities
  • Turner Syndrome
  • Down Syndrome
  • Williams Syndrome
  • Intestinal cancer
  • Family members who have any of the above conditions
Each case of celiac disease is different in its presentation. If you have a collection of the symptoms, signs and/or conditions listed above, talk to your health care provider about talking to someone who specializes in celiac. Please realize that not all physicians or digestive health physicians or dietitians have a good understanding of celiac disease and you may need to advocate for yourself for further testing and exploration of the possibility of celiac disease.

More to come this month:

  • What difference does a diagnosis make? You already know a gluten-free diet feels better, why would a diagnosis matter?
  • How do you diagnose celiac disease?

Photo credit: JupiterImages (photograph); Jen Christiansen (photo illustration) found in Scientific American. Click here for an excellent article to learn more.

Material on this blog is provided for informational purposes only. It is general information that may not apply to you as an individual, and is not a substitute for personalized nutrition or health advice or healthcare. Never disregard medical advice or delay seeking medical care because of something you have read or accessed through this website.

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