Gluten Sensitivity: How to Diagnose
Excerpt from The Gluten Effect, Chapter 21.
As science has learned how gluten affects the body and the immune system, diagnostic testing has also rapidly evolved. Today, there are several blood tests that were not available two decades ago. Advances have mostly occurred in being able to detect specific antibodies. While these antibody tests are very important, they also have limitations of which you will need to be aware. In this chapter, we will discuss all the available tests as they pertain to gluten sensitivity and what information you are likely to receive from other clinicians. Additionally, we will demonstrate the shortcomings of these tests and some fallacies in common practice among clinicians when assessing the presence of gluten sensitivity.
Before we start, there is an important concept that must be stressed. For many decades, Celiac disease was felt to be the only health disorder related to gluten sensitivity. It was not until recently that an abundance of information revealed multiple health disorders related to gluten sensitivity that are distinct from Celiac disease. Celiac disease is defined as a type of gluten intolerance that damages the small intestine and causes villous atrophy. If you recall, small intestine villi are the small finger-like projections that help us absorb nutrients from our diet. In Celiac disease, these villi are severely damaged and shrink. This is labeled villous atrophy.
Because Celiac disease was thought to be the only gluten disorder, the definitive diagnosis of Celiac disease has been an intestinal biopsy to show villous atrophy. What we now realize is that Celiac disease represents a fraction of all gluten related disorders. Despite this, many clinicians believe a biopsy must be performed to diagnose gluten sensitivity, and if negative, they believe this effectively rules out a gluten disorder. This is absolutely not true!....
To find out more read The Gluten Effect: How “Innocent” Wheat is Ruining Your Health.
The recent good news is that Elisabeth Hasselbeck wrote a book called the G Free Diet. It should definitely increase awareness of celiac disease, an illness that she personally suffers from.
The bad news is, I’m afraid, that more people will follow down her personal trail of diagnosis and be told, incorrectly, that they’re fine because they don’t have celiac disease.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled that awareness of the disease will increase. Considering 1 in 133 people suffer from celiac and only 3 to 5% of that group of millions have been diagnosed, there’s obviously a lot of work to do. But I’m an advocate not only for that group but the millions upon millions more that fall into the little known gluten sensitive group. Those that won’t have a positive intestinal biopsy but will still be suffering from a sensitivity to gluten – those at risk for not only digestive disturbances, but autoimmune disease, obesity, fatigue, skin problems and cancer.
So thank you Elisabeth, for shining a spotlight on celiac disease – many will benefit. But for the rest of you (40% of the population by estimate!) get the data on how best YOU can get diagnosed.
Let me know if I can be of any help.
To your good health,
Dr Vikki Petersen
Author of The Gluten Effect