A Gluten free diet is a diet prescribed to people with an intolerance to gluten, such as people diagnosed with Celiac and Dermatitis Herpetiformis. For people with Celiac, eating foods that contain gluten causes damage to the linings of the small intestine. Due to this damage, the intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients from the digested food is hindered. When malabsorption happens, there is a significant loss of vitamins, minerals and calories. This results to malnutrition, regardless of an adequate diet. Dermatitis Herpetiformis is a condition manifested by skin sensitivity to gluten.
Gluten and Gluten-Free Diet (GFD)
Gluten can be found in some grains such as wheat, rye and barley. It is composed of two proteins, alpha-gliadin and glutenin. For people with gluten intolerance, it is the alpha-gliadin that causes a reaction in the mucous lining of the intestine. The villi lining the small intestine suffer damage due to the reaction. Villi play an important role in digestion. They are responsible for absorbing nutrients. Some grains are not true gluten in such a way that they only contain glutenin without alpha-gliadin. These grains are maize and rice. Grains with just glutenin are safe to consume for people with gluten intolerance.
Reports show that there are several deficiencies that may occur in following a gluten free diet. For people diagnosed with Celiac and other conditions associated with intolerance to gluten, the health benefits of the diet outweigh the observed deficiencies. However, for people who follow the diet without any medically imperative reasons, it might be safer to just follow a normal balanced diet.
1. Folate Deficiency
Folate deficiency results from insufficient folic acid in the diet. The symptoms are not noticeable. Folic acid or folate is very important in pregnancy. Pregnant women with folate deficiency may increase the risk of birth defects such neuro tube defects. A baby is also likely to have a low birth weight because of this deficiency. Some of the symptoms of folate deficiency include lack of appetite and weight loss. Due to the lack of appetite, a person may feel weakness and headache. Sore, red tongue is also a sign of folate deficiency. Folate deficiency, when not recognized immediately, may eventually lead to anemia.
2. B12 Deficiency
Vitamin B12 works with folic acid in regulating red blood cells and utilization of iron. It is important in preventing anemia. A vitamin B12 deficiency may cause chronic fatigue, depression, digestive disorders, eye disorders, hallucinations, dizziness, memory loss, headaches among others. The body can store up to 5 years supply of B12. Symptoms may not usually manifest until the supply has been completely depleted.
3. Iron Deficiency
Iron is important in the production of myoglobin and hemoglobin. It plays a vital role in keeping the immune system healthy and also in producing energy. Iron deficiency symptoms include anemia, unhealthy hair characterized by brittleness and hair loss, digestive disorders, dizziness, obesity, fatigue and slowed mental reactions, among others.
A registered dietician will be able to recommend a gluten-free food source that is in line with the RDA for vitamins and minerals. This will help avoid these potential deficiencies.