What is gluten intolerance?

February 12, 2009 —

What is gluten intolerance?

Gluten-free diets: a fad or serious health condition?

Gluten-free. It’s a term most people have heard but don’t fully understand. Some think it’s just the newest craze in diets or food marketing. Not so!

Gluten is a protein in grass-type grains such as wheat, barley and rye. It gives food a stretchiness and stickiness and it’s in much of what Americans eat. It’s in the obvious things like bread, pasta and crackers but it’s also in sauces, medications, lipstick, imitation crabmeat and other items not normally associated with grains.

Unfortunately more and more people are finding their body might not tolerate gluten products very well. Gluten intolerance can run a whole range in severity from minor symptoms when a person eats grain-based foods to Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that prevents the gastrointestinal system from properly absorbing nutrients. Dr. Melita Marcial-Schuster, DMU family medicine physician, said one in every 300-500 people have some sort of gluten sensitivity.

Celiac disease can show up in early childhood or be triggered by pregnancy, infection, surgery or severe stress. Even slight contamination, say using a butter knife that had touched bread, may make someone with Celiac disease react.

In children the symptoms may include diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, weight loss, irritability, abdominal bloating and pain. Adults may also have aforementioned symptoms but could also have unexplained pain, anemia, depression or anxiety, seizures, osteoporosis, infertility, canker sores, rash, migraines, irregular menstrual periods, poor teeth enamel or numbness in the hands or feet.

Gluten intolerance can be diagnosed with a blood test, antibody screening or biopsy. Many people simply take gluten out of their diet for a month to see if it alleviates symptoms which works well as that’s the course of action upon diagnosis.

“For the first week, I tell people to work on eating whole, unprocessed gluten-free foods and getting rid of the obvious foods that you can. Then work on going into details of finding out what’s in what,” she said.


Courtney Tompkins has been part of the DMU marketing team since Nov. 2005 and loves promoting a school she believes in so thoroughly. Proud daughter and patient of DMU alumni, Courtney knows, first-hand, that Des Moines University is doing a world of good. A fan of all outdoor festivals, fruity drinks and nearly all edibles, she has a hard time narrowing down her list of favorite places to go and things to do but lists the Iowa State Fair as an all-time fave. She loves her 8-minute commute to DMU from Urbandale, a suburb of Des Moines. She and husband Tyler are owned by three large dogs, Tonka, Tucker and Tank.