What is Gluten?
Gluten is a naturally-occurring protein composite that is found in wheat, rye, barley and other grains. Determining whether or not your child is suffering from a gluten sensitivity is a crucial first step in addressing any potential food triggers in your child’s diet. Once you discover an underlying gluten sensitivity, you can take the steps necessary to eliminate gluten containing foods from your child’s diet and lead him down the path to improved health.
Learn about the different types of gluten sensitivities. Studies now reveal that approximately 15 percent of the population suffer from some form of gluten sensitivity. These statistics include celiac disease, gluten allergy and gluten intolerance.
Celiac disease causes an autoimmune reaction when the gluten protein is ingested. Although the autoimmune response is an allergic reaction triggered by gluten, it is not considered a gluten allergy. When a person with celiac disease consumes a food that contains gluten, an autoimmune response is triggered in which the body literally attacks itself. The tiny villi that cover the surface of the small intestine help to pull the nutrients out of food before it is digested. Because these villi are attacked by the immune system, they do not function properly and nutrients are not effectively absorbed from the foods that are eaten. Over time, the effects of this digestive disease result in permanent damage to the villi. As a result, malabsorption can occur because vital nutrients are not absorbed.
Gluten allergy, or wheat allergy, also causes an immune response in allergic individuals when gluten is consumed. When wheat is consumed, the body has a histamine response and produces antibodies to the gluten. Less common than gluten intolerance, a true gluten allergy may cause an immediate allergic reaction shortly after gluten is consumed. Allergic reactions can range from severe breathing difficulties to minor skin rashes. Common symptoms of gluten allergy include fatigue, joint pain, weight loss or weight gain, and digestive problems. Gluten allergy is one of the more common food allergies in children. Some children who suffer from a gluten allergy may outgrow the condition as they get older. Many will do so by the time they reach six years of age.
Gluten intolerance occurs when the body cannot break down food properly. Gluten intolerance is a general umbrella term that refers to the dozens of symptoms that may be experienced by an individual who is sensitive to gluten. Unlike celiac disease and gluten allergy, there is no specific test in place to provide a definitive diagnosis of a gluten intolerance. Because of the broad range of symptoms and causes associated with gluten intolerance, people who suffer from this condition may be misdiagnosed with a condition that produces similar symptoms. Detecting a gluten intolerance based on presenting symptoms can be difficult. Unlike gluten allergies, the body does not usually adapt to a gluten intolerance, and a child who has the condition will likely continue to have it as an adult.
Look into your child’s family history and inquire about relatives who may have suffered from gluten sensitivity. The condition has a genetic component and it is more likely to occur in your child if there are family members who suffer from food allergies or hay fever. Food allergies were not as easily recognized in prior decades. Even if there are no documented cases in the family, it is possible that the condition existed but escaped detection. Try to find out if any family members experienced some of the symptoms commonly associated with gluten sensitivity. If Aunt Martha always kept a bottle of antacids next to her plate at dinner or immediately dashed for the bathroom after eating her meal, it is possible that a gluten sensitivity may have been the culprit.
Make a list of the symptoms your child is experiencing that leads you to suspect that a gluten sensitivity may be present. Do the same for any negative behaviors your child displays. Do not refer to symptoms experienced by other children who suffer from gluten sensitivities, as there are hundreds of possible symptoms that may occur. What is experienced individually amongst children with the condition can vary greatly. Always refer to your child’s own individual symptoms, even if it is one that is not generally believed to be associated with a gluten allergy.
Be on the lookout for specific symptoms that are common among gluten-sensitive individuals. Although your child may have additional symptoms that do not fall into this category, doctors note that the following list covers the most common symptoms associated with the condition. Watch for unexplained changes in weight, gastrointestinal problems (bloating, gas, cramps, constipation, diarrhea), eczema and other skin rashes, headaches, achy joints, irritability, mood changes and fatigue.
Start a food journal for your child. Keep track of the foods that your child consumes for two weeks. Take note of any troublesome symptoms or negative behaviors that your child experiences after consuming particular foods. Try to determine if there is a direct correlation between symptoms/behaviors and specific foods
Schedule a visit with the pediatrician and request that your child be tested for celiac disease and gluten allergies.