The trendy world of popular diets, the latest catchphrase is gluten-free. With more and more gluten-free products cropping up in supermarkets, it’s easy to think their benefits might stretch beyond the audience for whom they’re intended: people with coeliac disease and gluten intolerance. This eating style is absolutely essential for people with coeliac disease, who can't tolerate even small amounts of the protein gluten, which is found in grains such as wheat, rye, and barley. It's a popular diet of the moment, but it really does seem to provide some improvement in gastrointestinal problems for a segment of the population.
When a person with coeliac disease eats gluten, his or her immune system attacks the lining of the small intestine. The damage that results causes symptoms such as gas, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, headache, trouble concentrating, and fatigue. It can also lead to weight loss and malnutrition. Coeliac disease was long believed to be the only condition triggered by gluten. But there is now good evidence that a condition called noncoeliac gluten sensitivity causes similar symptoms but no intestinal damage.
The key treatment for both coeliac disease and noncoeliac gluten sensitivity is cutting gluten out of the diet. But that's more than just a matter of buying gluten-free products in the grocery store and avoiding obvious foods with rye, barley, or wheat—such as bread, cereal, pasta, and pizza. It takes a long time to learn how to live gluten-free. You have to become a gluten detective, scouring food labels and looking for hidden gluten. That's because gluten is in everything from frozen vegetables to soy sauce and medications.
When it comes to autism, however, the case isn’t so clear-cut. Many children with autism have gastrointestinal problems, and some parents report that their children’s autism symptoms improve when they follow a gluten-free diet that usually also eliminates casein, a protein found in milk. But objective clinical studies haven’t shown that the diet works. Most recently, in May, University of Rochester researchers reported the results of a well-designed (double-blind, placebo-controlled), four-month study of 14 preschoolers with autism. They found that a strict gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet had no discernible effects on autistic behavior patterns, attention, sleep and other symptoms. But that doesn’t rule out trying diet therapy.
Coeliac Disease and Crohn’s are related in that they both are diseases of the small intestine that can lead to malabsorption and predispose that person to other conditions. They are different in that they have completely separate causes – Coeliac is a reaction to gluten, Crohn’s is a reaction to certain bacteria. However, they are very commonly found together. Research in the journal Inflammatory Bowel Disease (2005) found that the majority of people (55%) with Crohn’s also have Coeliac Disease. There is also an increased incidence of Crohn’s in people with Coeliac Disease. Some gastroenterologists believe that it is very important that people with Crohn’s follow a gluten-free diet.
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