Gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity is a group of health issues caused by the consumption of gluten. Gluten is a protein present in wheat, rye, barley and oats.
Gluten sensitivity is often confused with Celiac disease (Celiac sprue). In fact, Celiac disease is the most severe form of gluten intolerance. Everyone with Celiac disease is gluten sensitive, but not everyone with gluten sensitivity has Celiac.
In a gluten-intolerant person the immune system reacts to gluten and causes an inflammation in the intestines. This damages the intestinal villi – finger-like protrusions on the walls of the intestines that ensure nutrient absorption. When villi get damaged, the food rushes through the intestines without proper digestion. At this stage gluten intolerance turns into Celiac disease.
Celiac disease is defined as an autoimmune disease in which the immune system of the body attacks the body itself in response to gluten.
The worst side affect that gluten sensitivity causes is mal-absorption. When different areas of intestines get damaged it may lead to poorly absorbed calcium, iron, or vitamins A, D, E, K, B, and D. This explains the vast array of gluten sensitivity symptoms (see below).
Gluten intolerance/gluten sensitivity and Celiac disease are NOT allergic reactions. The term “gluten allergy” is inaccurate.
In food allergies food components are mistaken for foreign bodies and immune system produces antibodies to fight them. In case of gluten sensitivity, the body attacks itself (the intestines) in reaction to gluten. Visit Allergies section to read more.
Gluten sensitivity and Celiac disease are genetic. A baby is born with gluten sensitivity. The symptoms may, however, not be showing until later in life.
Symptoms vary in severity and consistency. A lot of this is accounted for by the area of intestines that gets affected.
Breastfeeding can prevent gluten sensitivity from turning into a Celiac disease. This is VERY important! If you have gluten problems running in the family breastfeeding is a must.
Every food that finds its way into our intestines is a foreign body. As our immune system matures it learns to accept different food items. The later the baby comes in contact with the potential allergen, the more prepared the immune system is to accept it.
When we start introducing solids we start with rice cereal, don’t we?! Why? Rice doesn’t contain any allergy-causing proteins!
Celiac disease is mostly diagnosed between 5 months and 2 years of age. The longer you breastfeed (even after the solids start), the better chances you give your baby to avoid (or at least postpone) Celiac disease.
Breast milk contains proteins that are the easiest for the babies to digest and absorb. These are the proteins they were living with for 9 months! It also contains important antibodies that protect the intestines.
The bottom line is: find out if anyone in your family showed any symptoms of gluten intolerance or was diagnosed with Celiac disease. If so, avoid gluten while breastfeeding. Let your baby’s pediatrician know. When starting solids, postpone gluten-containing foods for as long as possible.
If your doctor suspects gluten intolerance in your baby it can be tested by blood tests, or later by a bowel biopsy. It is important to diagnose gluten issues early to avoid later complications.
People with prolonged and ignored gluten sensitivity are prone to other autoimmune diseases, like type 1 diabetes, thyroid disease and anemia. Ignored Celiac disease is also blamed for some types of cancer later in life.
If you are exclusively breastfeeding, and there are grounds to suspect gluten sensitivity in your baby, avoid gluten. Even if there are no symptoms, damage to the intestines may be happening.
Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley and oats.
Read labels carefully.
Here is what you need to know:
The bottom line is: read the label even if the food seems gluten-free. When you eat out specifically ask if the food you are going to order contains gluten.
Keep in mind that you still need to get all the nutrients your body requires. Visit Nutrition section to read more.
Don’t get discouraged and unmotivated to breastfeed your little one. Breastfeeding is the safest option if there is a risk of gluten sensitivity. Yes, it is trickier for you in terms of diet. But it gives your baby the best chances to live Celiac-free!
Being gluten-free and happy is all about the acceptance. I know it is easier said than done and I only stayed gluten-free till my son outgrew the allergic reactions. Read my story here. But from my experience I know it is doable! Moreover, you can find a great variety of gluten substitutes in stores today.
There are many ways to show your love and devotion to your kids and to win their trust. Breastfeeding is the most natural one.