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Gluten sensitivity hard to diagnose
People sensitive to gluten, a protein found in wheat, can have a hard time getting diagnosed

Date published: 3/29/2009

GLUTEN sensitivity, and the celiac disease it causes, are often misdiagnosed. Patients can suffer gastrointestinal distress for years if their doctors are not attuned to this--or worse still, fob it off as some kind of incurable neurosis.

So when I told a group of vegetarians, vegans and sufferers of gluten intolerance that I recently lectured one of my patients about "just" having irritable bowel disease--and told the patient she was "going to have to learn to live with it"--there was a sort of horrified gasp.

I could hear them all thinking: "Another bozo doctor."

I was at a meeting of a vegetarian group that gathers one Saturday morning a month at The Loft, above Frederick's restaurant on Princess Anne Street in downtown Fredericksburg. At this meeting, Shirley Braden of the King George Celiac and Gluten Intolerance Group was making the presentation.

A sufferer herself, Braden told a fairly typical story of going for years undiagnosed, having terrible stomach cramps as a child and spending her life in the bathroom with diarrhea.

Only when she went to a slightly alternative doctor because of some obscure gynecological problems--and this doctor said, "I really think there's something else going on"--was she finally identified as being gluten-sensitive.

A UBIQUITOUS PROBLEM

Gluten is a protein found in rye, barley and most notably in wheat--so it is found in a huge array of foodstuffs that are part of the normal diet.

People who are sensitive to gluten develop damage to the small intestine when they eat it, which leads to diarrhea, abdominal pains and malabsorption of many vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.

There is also evidence that gluten sensitivity has an adverse interaction with the body's immune system that causes a form of so-called collagen-vascular disease.

This damages many other organs in the body, and one of Braden's handouts lists some 60-odd diseases that it claims can be improved by excluding gluten from your diet--diseases as varied as depression, dementia, cirrhosis, multiple sclerosis, seizures, kidney disease, infertility, joint pains, fibromyalgia and various cancers.

There appears to be an inherited predisposition to gluten sensitivity, so there is an increased prevalence of gluten sensitivity among family members.


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Dr. Patrick Neustatter is a family practitioner in North Stafford.