The best way to find out if a gluten-free diet will help you is to try it. But that doesn’t mean it’s the first thing you should do.
Celiac disease is not the only form of gluten intolerance, and often times food sensitivities are impossible to diagnose without trying an elimination diet. The current food sensitivity testing is unreliable, and generally is used as a starting point for things to try to eliminate rather than as a diagnostic tool. Even celiac testing is notorious for false negatives. With gluten intolerance on the rise, many people think it makes sense to skip testing and just go gluten-free.
Trying a gluten-free diet isn’t dangerous, and if it makes you feel better of course you’ll want to stick with it. People who advocate a gluten-free trial prior to testing reason that after a few weeks of the diet, if you feel better you can go ahead with testing to confirm your suspicions and find out the extent of the damage.
It’s more complicated than that for a couple reasons.First – To get an accurate test result for celiac disease you must be eating at least 20 grams of gluten a day for three months. Even a short period of time without gluten can cause the detectable signs of celiac disease to go away! So just go back on gluten, right?
Wrong! It turns out that many people who have a problem with gluten have much more extreme reactions once they reintroduce it. Some people have such severe symptoms in the first place that going back on gluten seems unbearable. While this is a good confirmation that gluten is a problem for you, it also can ruin your chances of getting an official celiac diagnosis!
There’s another complication as well… What if you feel the same or worse when you cut gluten out? This could mean that gluten isn’t a problem for you and something else is… Or it could mean it’s a bigger problem than you expected.
Here are some of the reasons gluten intolerant or celiac people don’t always feel better off gluten:
- Some people experience actual withdrawal symptoms when they cut it out. Gluten can form gluteomorphins in the body, which act as addictive opiates. When you cutting out gluten, many people feel awful at first because you are basically coming off a drug!
- If you are replacing old favorites with new “gluten-free” foods, you may react to the replacement! Rice flour, xantham gum, arrowroot, guar gum, increased corn, nuts, and soy… any new way of eating or introduction of new foods has the potential to throw you off kilter. Even just eliminating gluten without replacing it can change the amount of carbs you are eating and make you feel weird for a while.
- If you think you’ve eliminated gluten, but have actually just gone “gluten-lite,” you may continue to react to gluten. If you are getting even tiny amounts from shared cooking utensils, cross-contaminated ingredients, or personal care products you may not feel a difference, or may even feel worse as you become more sensitive.
- If you have been severely damaged by gluten, it may take a while for you to start feeling better.
- You are also intolerant to something else that causes similar symptoms. Lactose is a common one, since villi that are damaged by celiac often lose the ability to produce lactase.
Whether you feel better, worse, or the same during a short gluten-free trial, it will not tell you whether you have celiac disease If you are thinking about trying a gluten-free diet, get your celiac testing done first! Then try the diet regardless of the results. There are more ways to be gluten-intolerant than just celiac disease, so it’s worth a try.
So… Go Gluten Free First? Myth: Busted!
Update: Check out the other myths we’ve exposed so far:
- Celiac Testing Myth #1 – No Symptoms = No Celiac
- Celiac Testing Myth #3 – Gluten-Free 4 Life = No Reason to Test
- Celiac Testing Myth #4 – Doctor Knows Best
- Celiac Testing Myth #5 – DNA = Proof
- Celiac Testing Myth #6 – Negative Results = No Problems
- Wheat Allergy and Non-celiac Gluten Intolerance
This post is part of Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesday.