What Does Gluten Mean, and What is The Origin of the Word?

The word gluten is latin for “glue.” Gluten is a combination of two proteins called gliadin and glutenin and is found in grains such as wheat, rye, and barley. Most of the worlds bread products are manufactured with one of these three grains which gives it the thickness and chewable quality of which we are all so fond. Gluten is also added to other foods as a stabilizing agent. Some of the more common foods we consume which contain gluten are:

  • bagels
  • biscuits
  • bread
  • beer
  • cake
  • cereal
  • chicken nuggets
  • cookies
  • crackers
  • doughnuts
  • pastry
  • pie crust
  • pretzels
  • pasta
  • cold cuts
  • gravy
  • hot dogs
  • non dairy creamer
  • soy sauce

Many ingredients of processed foods also contain gluten.

Celiac Disease

Unfortunately, many people have a sensitivity, or intolerance, to gluten. Long-term ingestion of gluten can lead to a disease known as celiac disease. Celiac disease is now considered a common genetic disorder affecting about 1 in 133 people worldwide. It is now required by law to list ingredients containing gluten, such as wheat flour, on food labels.

Dangers of Gluten Allergy

When a person who is allergic to gluten ingests it, over time this can cause serious health complications for many. According to the NIDDK (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases),  one of the more serious adverse health problems related to celiac disease involves the damage and destruction of villi in the lining of the small intestines. Villi are small finger-like protrusions lining the small intestines. These villi allow nutrients from the foods we eat to be absorbed through the walls of the small intestines to the bloodstream. The destruction of these villi can lead to malnourishment. A study conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that people with celiac disease, both diagnosed and undiagnosed, had a higher risk of death, mainly from heart disease and cancer. This study included 3000 patients and examined deaths in three separate groups. Those with full blown celiac disease, those with gut inflammation only, and those with gluten sensitivity. The results were astounding.

Group % of increased risk of death

Celiac Disease: 39%

Gut Inflammation: 72%

Gluten Sensitivity: 35%

Symptoms of Celiac Disease

The NIDDK has established a list of digestive symptoms common of celiac disease. Some of these are more common in infants and children.

They include:

Abdominal bloating

Chronic diarrhea



Pale, foul smelling, or fatty stools

Weight loss


Adults may not have digestive symptoms, and are more likely to have the following symptoms:

  • unexplained iron-deficiency anemia
  • fatigue
  • bone or joint pain
  • arthritis
  • bone loss or osteoporosis
  • depression or anxiety
  • tingling numbness in the hands and feet
  • seizures
  • missed menstrual periods
  • infertility or recurrent miscarriage
  • canker sores inside the mouth
  • an itchy skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis

Diagnosing Celiac Disease

The Mayo Clinic conducted a study that suggest that celiac disease is nearly five times more common than it was fifty years ago. Dr Joseph Murray, who led the study, published an article in the Gastroenterology Journal, and concludes that, “it has to be the change in environment…..genetics don’t change that fast.”  If a person suspects they may have celiac disease and are suffering from some of the common symptoms, their doctor can order a blood test to confirm or disprove a diagnosis. A blood test that checks for certain autoantibodies or proteins that reacts against the bodys’ own cells or tissues will aid in a diagnosis. High levels of tTGA (anti-tissuetransglutaminase antibodies) or EMA (anti-endomysium antibodies) will confirm a gluten allergy. An intestinal biopsy is typically ordered at this point to check for full blown celiac disease when the villi in the small intestine has been damaged.

Treating Celiac Disease

A gluten free diet is currently the only treatment for celiac disease. A newly diagnosed person will benefit from working with a dietician who can teach a person with celiac disease how to eat healthy and eliminate gluten from their diet. They will also need to learn how to read ingredient lists and how to identify foods which contain gluten. In order to regain and maintain their health, a person with celiac disease must avoid gluten for the rest of their lives. Even small amounts of gluten can damage the small intestine. Fresh, unprocessed foods such as plain meat, fish, rice,fruits and vegetables do not contain gluten and are safe to ingest. Through increased understanding and awareness, people with celiac disease can lead a normal, healthy life.

For More Information

American Celiac Disease Alliance
2504 Duxbury Place
Alexandria, VA 22308
Phone: 703–622–3331
Email: info@americanceliac.org
Internet: www.americanceliac.org

American Dietetic Association
120 South Riverside Plaza, Suite 2000
Chicago, IL 60606–6995
Email: hotline@eatright.org
Internet: www.eatright.org

Celiac Disease Foundation
13251 Ventura Boulevard, #1
Studio City, CA 91604
Phone: 818–990–2354
Fax: 818–990–2379
Email: cdf@celiac.org
Internet: www.celiac.org

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