Journey Forth #6 : The Accidental Relationship between Gluten and Casein

When I was first diagnosed with celiac disease and started to research the disorder but also the foods that were available, I ran across many people who started pushing me towards a gluten free-casein free diet not only for myself but for Bug as well- we both have the disease and I think he can thank my genes for that ;) I was skeptical and I am still a bit questioning about some theories behind the diet. This particular diet is recommended for many people with celiac disease and other food allergies and it has become one of the diets of choice for individuals with autism and other developmental disorders and is sometimes recommended for people with mental health disorders such as schizophrenia. So I'll cover the basics of both. (Can I stress that I am wading into territory that is not firmly entrenched in science or statistics yet.)

The basics of this diet are that the individual not only avoids gluten but also all foods that contain the dairy protein. Some need to do this due to a true allergy and some people report that they have reactions that are similar to gluten intolerance when consuming the dairy protein. This protein can be found in butter, cheese, cream and milk, as well as yogurt and countless other products including chocolate, lunch meat or other prepared meat products and other non-dairy products. Symptoms of a true milk allergy are very similar to gluten intolerance as well as wheat allergy and celiac disease so trying to separate out the allergies and sensitivities can be pretty rough and time consuming. The most common symptoms may include; multiple skin reactions, anaphylaxis, multiple digestive complaints (including diarrhea, vomiting, and pain), multiple reactions in the lungs (coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath or wheezing), migraines, irritability, hyperactivity and other personality changes, insomnia, fatigue, depression and anxiety... to start the list. ;) If the challenge of eliminating gluten from the diet seems to be formidable, adding the need for casein removal can make the challenge seem like a herculean task.

There are a few reasons put forward for the similarities in symptoms and the immune reactions in the body between ingestion of gluten and casein. All three have been and are currently under study by researchers.

Casein is one of the most common food allergies and some studies suggest that as much as thirty percent of the general population have elevated amounts of the antibodies in their blood.

Casein has a similar molecular structure to gluten and they both create similar metabolic byproducts from their breakdown and digestion.

The enzyme that is needed to digest dairy is found in the brush borders and the tips of the villi in the small intestine... which is the first area that is damaged in gluten consumption for those individuals who are susceptible. With the necessary enzymes being in low numbers or decimated, the digestive process fails until healing and enzyme re-population has commenced... in some cases, a year after a gluten exposure.

For many parents of children with mental health disorders or developmental delays such as autism, this diet is not seen as a “diet” per se, but as a necessity and way of life. The changes in both behavior as well as mentation have been pretty well documented in self reporting and other unofficial forums. From personal experience, I feel a lot more in 'control' of my mind when I haven't had gluten- celiac aside. These experiences as well as watching and learning from friends and parents who have navigated these particular waters, I have found a great deal of confirmation in my mind that there is a great deal of positive evidence for recommendation of this particular diet for people with specific diagnoses or conditions. So even as I stress that the scientific evidence isn't there yet, I feel like I would be remiss if I hadn’t taken the time to discuss it. Whether the problems are due to the body's confusion of the proteins, lack or appropriate digestive enzymes or even another allergy... the problems are very real and need to be dealt with by individual sufferers on a daily basis.

What are your thoughts? Do you personally have experiences with this diet and individuals who use it? Please share if you are willing to...! :)

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