Chances are good that you probably know someone on a gluten-free diet, if you’re not following one yourself. Although this diet is trendy right now, it’s been the staple treatment for decades for people with Celiac disease. This very serious disease causes sufferers to be unable to tolerate even trace amounts of gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, rye, and spelt. If you’ve ever made a yeast dough with wheat, gluten is what makes it stretchy. But what is Celiac disease, how do you know if you have it, and is there a link between gluten and fibromyalgia? Read on to learn more.
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that damages the intestines when the person consumes gluten. Symptoms can include the following:
- stomach pain
- unexplained anemia
- bone or joint pain
- depression and anxiety
- digestive disorders
Many people with Celiac disease also have at least one other autoimmune disease, such as multiple sclerosis, lupus, or scleroderma.
How is Celiac Disease Diagnosed?
The only scientifically reliable way to diagnose Celiac disease is through a blood test. A positive blood test is then confirmed with a follow-up biopsy of the intestines. If you believe you may have Celiac, you should have the tests done before going on a gluten-free diet because the diet may give false negative results.
However, many people find that they have an intolerance to gluten by doing a challenge test. To do a challenge test, completely remove gluten from your diet for at least two or three weeks. Then, try consuming gluten again to see if it makes you feel worse. This can indicate a dietary intolerance that is less severe than Celiac disease or an allergy.
What’s the Connection to Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a common misdiagnosis for Celiac disease because many of the symptoms are so similar. Doctors are trained to look for the most common explanation first and fibromyalgia is much more common than Celiac disease. A 2015 study in Rheumatology International found that there actually is a documented link between Celiac disease and fibromyalgia, although it does not establish either one as causing the other.
However, the two illnesses do share many symptoms and characteristics in common, including fatigue, anemia, and digestive disorders. Both fibromyalgia and Celiac disease may be associated with irritable bowel syndrome. Gluten and fibromyalgia appear to have some connection.
Can a Gluten-Free Diet Help Fibromyalgia?
Many people believe that fibromyalgia is linked to dietary intolerances. Gluten intolerance is one of the most frequently mentioned culprits for digestive distress and all-over pain. However, the 2015 study referenced above also found that many people with fibromyalgia have a non-Celiac form of gluten intolerance. As a result, fibromyalgia patients may suffer from less pain and discomfort when they follow a gluten-free diet.
Consuming gluten can cause an inflammatory cycle to ensue in the digestive system. This inflammatory process can lead to some of the most painful symptoms of fibromyalgia. However, even though it’s caused by an inflammatory process, most fibro sufferers find that anti-inflammatory medications such as Aleve or Advil don’t provide pain relief.
Following a gluten-free diet is always worth trying if your fibromyalgia isn’t responding to other therapies well enough. Going gluten-free can be a bit challenging, especially at first when you’re adjusting to the diet. But many people find that the symptom relief is worth the effort. Giving up gluten and fibromyalgia relief seems like a good trade-off.
Tips for Going Gluten-Free
Cut out the following foods if you’re trying to go gluten-free:
- Foods containing wheat or wheat flour, including bread, pasta, wheat bran, wheat germ, and cookies and crackers. Many products in your grocery store are labeled as gluten-free, so you don’t have to resign yourself to a bread-free life. However, many people sensitive to gluten are also sensitive to other grains, so it’s a good idea to minimize gluten-free products while you’re doing a gluten-free challenge.
- Foods containing other problematic grains, such as barley and rye.
- Wheat-derived ingredients including soy sauce, seitan, licorice, gravies, and sauces.
- Be aware of cross-contamination. If you make a gluten-free pizza crust on the same surface where a gluten-containing crust was just prepared, you’re likely to get cross-contaminated. Use new and separate utensils and pans for preparing gluten-free food as well.
Seek help from your doctor or a nutritionist before you give up all gluten. If you do give up gluten, keep a log of your daily symptoms to narrow down what the problem really is. Gluten and fibromyalgia may be linked in your case, but going gluten-free doesn’t help everyone.