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Gluten: Top 4 things parents should know

October 27, 2014

Does your child’s stomach get upset when eating a bagel or enjoying a pasta dinner? If so, gluten could be the culprit to blame.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley, as well as some everyday products such as medicines and vitamins. It can cause a number of health issues for children, from stomach sensitivity to allergic reactions to any product containing wheat.

Understanding gluten-related health issues

Dr. Chris Hayes, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Baystate Children Hospital, noted that gluten-free diets and Celiac Disease have been the topics of much discussion in the media lately.

October is Celiac Disease Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness of a condition related to gluten that affects an estimated 1 in 133 Americans, or about 1% of the population. Celiac Disease is a dietary intolerance to gluten.

"In Celiac Disease, gluten causes inflammation and damage to the intestines. The damage is actually visible on biopsy and can cause problems with digestion and the absorption of nutrients," Dr. Hayes said.

Celiac Disease isn’t the only condition aggravated by gluten; some children who may test negative for Celiac Disease may still have some sensitivity or intolerance to wheat products.

“People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can also have certain food sensitivities. Gluten is one of those foods that people with IBS are sensitive to. About 30% of people with IBS benefit from adopting a gluten-free diet,” said Dr. Hayes.

Managing gluten sensitivities

Dr. Hayes offers the following tips for those parents who think their child may have Celiac Disease or sensitivity to gluten:

  1. Be aware of the possibility – It is possible to have Celiac Disease and not even know it. According to the National Foundation of Celiac Disease Awareness, it is estimated that 83% of Americans who have celiac disease are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other conditions. Some patients may not have severe symptoms, but still test positive for celiac disease.
  2. Get tested for Celiac Disease – If you suspect your child may have gluten intolerance, having a pediatrician order a simple blood screening for Celiac Disease is important to their long-term health as it can have implications for their growth, bone health, and overall nutrition.
  3. Educate your child and their caregivers – If your child does test positive for Celiac Disease, remember that knowledge is power. Educating your child and making sure he or she knows and understands what they can and cannot have to eat is important. You also want to inform their caregivers at school or daycare to their issues with gluten and what they need to do.
  4. Gluten free and your child’s nutrition – "While a gluten-free diet can be a healthy diet, the addition of a daily multivitamin is essential to prevent deficiencies of the important B- group Vitamins. Those children with actual Celiac Disease can suffer from damage to their intestine and resulting poor absorption of nutrients. They should be monitored periodically for deficiencies of iron and other nutrients."