Can Gluten Intolerance Start Later in Life?

It sounds like a doom and gloom prophecy, but the reality is that gluten intolerance – more aptly called gluten sensitivity – spares no one. It can strike anyone at any time, including those who were not previously sensitive to it.

Similar to lactose intolerance, gluten sensitivity can affect any member of the human population regardless of their age. What is even more interesting is there seems to be a trend that the older you get, the higher your risks are for developing a sensitivity to this family of proteins.

The Gluten Sensitivity Spectrum

Sensitivity to gluten can take several forms. There is non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), which is a condition that triggers bloating, constipation or diarrhoea, gas, nausea, joint pain and stomach cramps in affected individuals whenever they consume gluten.

Then there is coeliac disease (CD) which is essentially gluten sensitivity at its most severe form. Individuals diagnosed with this genetic autoimmune disorder do not only experience the symptoms listed above (and more) when they ingest gluten but also suffer from long-term intestinal damage. This puts them at risk for malnutrition and various health complications such as cancer, infertility and thyroid conditions.

Lastly, there is gluten ataxia. It is also an autoimmune condition like coeliac disease, but instead of your intestinal wall lining getting attacked, the antibodies attack your brain and nervous system instead.

Following a gluten-free diet is the only way to manage the symptoms of non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, coeliac disease and gluten ataxia.

A Gluten Moment

A research study concluded that individuals lose their ability to tolerate gluten as they age. The conclusion came after the researchers found that the number of participants who had coeliac disease doubled 15 years later.

It is a strange experience that an increasing number of senior citizens are having, indeed. How can you suddenly lose your capacity to digest something that you have been eating for many decades and years?

But that’s exactly what the researchers discovered in the study, leading them to think that there must have been a change in the bacterial composition of the subjects who tested positive for coeliac disease more than a decade later. Since coeliac disease is a genetic condition, the researchers believed these participants already had a history of this disorder and the change in their intestinal bacteria triggered it. The possible reasons behind this change may include a stressful event (examples are suffering from an injury or death of a loved one), antibiotics, and surgery.

Meanwhile, other medical practitioners think our body’s resistance to autoimmune diseases like coeliac disease naturally weakens over time.

Better Late Than Never

If you or an aging loved one exhibits the symptoms associated with gluten sensitivity, we recommend you consult with your trusted healthcare provider to arrive at the proper diagnosis at the soonest possible time.

More than half of the individuals who have coeliac disease remain undiagnosed. In the case of the elderly, their coeliac disease is often misdiagnosed for another condition. Instead of self-diagnosing, ask the help of experts such as a nutritionist or dietitian with a background in gluten sensitivity. This will reduce your risk for misdiagnosis and lead you towards the most suitable treatment. Getting a late but accurate diagnosis is far better than receiving a wrong diagnosis or not getting diagnosed at all.

No Gluten, No Problem

Testing positive for coeliac disease or any form of gluten sensitivity particularly during your Golden Years can be difficult to accept at first. The good news is there are many naturally gluten-free foods that you can still eat, and the benefits of doing so are equally many too. From lowering your risk for cancer and diabetes to removing unhealthy processed foods from your diet, going gluten-free may not be as bad as you think. Embrace a gluten-free lifestyle by stocking up on these gluten-free foods:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Fresh meat like beef and pork (skip the breaded or marinated ones)
  • Fresh poultry like chicken and turkey
  • Fresh seafood (like fish and scallops)
  • Beans, legumes, lentils and peas
  • Dairy products like milk and yoghurt
  • Healthy fats and seed oils like avocado oil, coconut oil and sunflower oil
  • Nuts and seeds

Gluten-Free and Happy

Contrary to what many people think, following a gluten-free diet or leading a gluten-free lifestyle is not equivalent to self-deprivation. Going gluten-free may take some time for you to get used to, but what’s important is that you stay committed to it. With the support of your family and friends and the guidance of your dietitian or nutritionist, you’ll be able to ease into this new lifestyle no matter how challenging it seems at first. To help you better adapt to this new way of life, we suggest you follow these tips:

  • Follow your dietary plan. Consult with your nutritionist or dietitian before you make any changes to it and before you eat anything that is not included in it. This will lessen your risk of eating gluten-containing foods that could trigger your symptoms.
  • When eating out in restaurants, don’t hesitate to inform the waiter that you are sensitive to gluten. They may be able to recommend their gluten-free options if these are not clearly specified in their menu.
  • When invited to a party, inform the host/hostess of your condition and ask whether there are gluten-free foods to be served. Either way, it’s best to eat a snack or light meal before going to a party just in case all the foods that will be served contain gluten.
  • If you are living in a home with other non-gluten sensitive individuals, it will be better to have your own kitchen utensils and cutlery to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Familiarise yourself with gluten-free foods and beverages. This will help you save some time during your next visit to the grocery. If your local supermarket has a dedicated gluten-free aisle, make sure you know where it’s located.
  • Consider joining gluten-free support groups in your local community or even online. This can provide you with the encouragement you need to stay committed to your new lifestyle. It will also give you access to valuable information and effective tips on living gluten-free, straight from those who are doing it too.

Need Our Help?

Book an appointment with an accredited dietitian or nutritionist by phone on (07) 3071-7405 between 8am and 6pm Monday to Friday or send us an enquiry. Alternatively, read up on our Food Intolerances, Allergies and Sensitivities services.