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How Does Gluten Affect You

By Patrick Northcraft, FNP-C CBN


Have you ever wondered what’s behind all the gluten-free hype? These days so many foods are plastered with the gluten-free label, you may have wondered if you should consider a gluten-free diet. For many people the presence of gluten in food can cause them to feel bloated or lethargic. But you may not have any reaction to gluten at all.


While it’s best to consult your physician about whether a gluten-free diet is best for you, here are a few things to consider: First of all, gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, rye and barley that triggers an autoimmune response in some people. This can cause a number of problems from weight loss to stomach pain. But chief among them is celiac disease. Celiac disease is defined by the Celiac Disease Foundation as an autoimmune disease, not a food allergy. With celiac disease, the villi (tiny hair-like projections in the small intestine that absorb nutrients from food) are damaged when foods containing gluten are consumed. The damaged villi can negatively impact the absorption of nutrients, leading to nutritional deficiencies and if left untreated, damage the small bowel and result in other systemic effects. In some cases of celiac disease, nutritional deficiencies can lead to osteoporosis and anemia. Only about 1% of the population has celiac disease.


You can be intolerant to gluten and not necessarily have celiac disease. Persons with non-celiac gluten sensitivity can experience symptoms similar to celiac disease, but lack the same antibodies and intestinal damage as seen in celiac disease. The clear difference is the immune response that occurs when you eat gluten, the damage that occurs to the intestines, and the elevation of certain enzymes and antibodies detected on blood work.


You should consult with your medical provider if you are concerned about celiac disease or have other questions regarding sensitivity to gluten. The only treatment for celiac disease and or sensitivity to gluten is a lifelong gluten-free diet.


If you do start the gluten diet, you will need to read your food labels to make sure you eat enough fiber. Making an appointment with a dietitian may be necessary to help with meal planning, providing tips with shopping, and identifying gluten-free foods.



  1. Celiac Disease. Retrieved from
  2. Non-celiac Gluten Sensitivity. Retrieved from