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Gluten Intolerance and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Published date: August 16, 2013 | Modified date:
by Dr Stephen Wangen
(photo: commons.wikimedia)
(photo: commons.wikimedia)

Like many people who have been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), you may have discovered that you are gluten intolerant. Or maybe you have IBS symptoms and are wondering if you are gluten intolerant.

The diagnosis of IBS of course is (or was) of no real help to you, and it really is of no help to anyone, except when it is definitively used to rule out potentially deadly conditions. IBS is a diagnosis often given to people with chronic diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating, abdominal pain, or a combination of any of those symptoms.

But being diagnosed with IBS only means that your bowel irritates you, which you already know.

The symptoms called IBS are something we deal with every day at the IBS Treatment Center. Regardless of whether a patient has been formally diagnosed with IBS, or just has the symptoms, we try to identify the cause or causes.

Some people have these symptoms, at least in part, because their bodies are intolerant of gluten. At least 35-50 million people in the U.S. suffer from ‘diagnosable’ IBS. As studies have clearly shown, approximately 3 million people have celiac disease. While people with IBS symptoms obviously can’t all have celiac disease, the situation is more complicated that you might think.

Far more than 3 million people are gluten intolerant and exhibit symptoms such as IBS when they include gluten in their diet.

In fact, many people who do not have celiac disease turn out to have symptoms caused by the consumption of gluten.

We frequently see this situation at our clinic.

How can this be? The confusion comes because not everyone who suffers from gluten intolerance has celiac disease.

Celiac is a very specific condition related to a specific type of damage in the body. It is only one type of gluten intolerance. I’ve seen far too many patients who’ve tested negative for celiac disease, either at my clinic or elsewhere, yet have a dramatic improvement in their health on a gluten free diet, to write them off as a false negative celiac diagnosis.

These patients test positive for reactions to gliadin and the gluten containing grains. But they do not have a positive biopsy or positive blood tests for celiac disease.

Once they remove gluten from their diet they invariably feel much better. This happens too often to be coincidence or placebo. And the testing supports their diagnosis.

Unfortunately these kinds of test results are often ignored, and it can be difficult to find a doctor who will work with you. But eventually I am confident that the medical community will finally come together on this topic.

Of course, not all IBS patients are gluten intolerant. It is only one of many causes. Fortunately there are other tests than can illuminate exactly what is causing these symptoms. So if you still suff er from digestive problems, whether or not you are gluten intolerant, don’t give up. There is an answer for you.

QUESTIONS? Email the IBS Treatment Center directly at
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