FeaturesDec/Jan 2010 Issue

Searching for Answers - Celiac and Gluten Sensitivities

Your Genes, Please

For her genetic test, Abby gave a small sample of blood, drawn at a nearby lab, “It was really easy. They just took one tube of blood. No special preparations were necessary,” Williamson says. 

Newer tests offer in-home convenience without the needle. Genetic material can now be extracted from cheek cells or saliva.

“A new test examines samples obtained by wiping the inside of the cheek several times with what looks like a mascara wand,” explains Shilson. “It’s done at home and mailed to the lab in the kit provided to you.”

Just as easy, a saliva test requires that patients spit into a small tube and then drop it in the mail.

“While its best to do genetic testing through your doctor, if your physician isn’t supportive and you’ve hit a wall, it’s possible to order the kits directly from the laboratories,” says Shilson. Labs provide results to the patient or the doctor, or both. An advantage of going through your doctor is that he or she can help interpret the results. However, Shilson adds, the labs have excellent genetic counselors on call.

Though newer tests may be more convenient, many patients like Abby use whatever sampling method is covered by their insurance. In many cases, an insurance company will stipulate a blood panel, not because it’s more accurate but because the company is behind on changing technology.

“The methods covered by insurance don’t necessarily speak to the accuracy of the newer tests,” Shilson says.

After Abby’s blood was drawn, the sample was shipped overnight to a lab to begin the complex genetic analysis. Some genetic tests are turned around in just a day or two. The lab that Abby used took a bit longer. The results? She was positive for the celiac gene.

For Williamson and Abby, who had hoped the test would conclusively rule out celiac disease, the results were disappointing. But as Williamson acknowledges, “That’s the reality of the test. I’m glad we did it because if not, we would have wondered.” The test provided another useful data point and, “For us, it was part of the journey to get Abby well,” Williamson says.

After learning the test results, Abby resumed the gluten-free diet. Although the positive read didn’t mean the diet was necessary for her, it seemed prudent to give it a second try. In addition, she cut out soy and dairy at the suggestion of her gastroenterologist.

Eliminating dairy made a huge difference. “It may be the reason why Abby didn’t feel 100 percent better the first time she went gluten free,” Williamson speculates. “We still don’t have a formal diagnosis. As best as we can tell, she is sensitive to gluten, dairy and soy.”

Now 13, Abby has no complaints when it comes to her health. She is happily back on the soccer field—without the frequent bathroom breaks. Co-captain of the team, she recently received the female athlete of the year award at her middle school.

She’s also becoming quite accomplished in the kitchen, learning to bake gluten, dairy and soy free.

“Recently, we spent the whole morning together making blueberry muffins, oatmeal cookies and bread. It was a lot of fun,” Williamson says. “Eating used to cause Abby so much pain. It’s wonderful to see her finding joy in food again.” LW

Christine Boyd is a freelance writer who lives in Baltimore.

Comments (8)

I also went on a gluten free diet after reading what I could find, about Gluten Sensitivities because the way I was feeling. I didn't refer to a doctor concerning my symptoms. I didn't think that I would be helped. I really think that I need to be tested. I was wondering if you would have any advice on labs that do home test.

Posted by: mjm58 | November 5, 2014 2:15 PM    Report this comment

There are some pretty good paleo bread recipes out there, using coconut flour and almond flour and eggs, mostly. Paleo is definitely gluten free and touted by some to be the healthiest diet, as no grains at all, unless you want occasional rice, quinoa or oatmeal.

Posted by: Violet | November 4, 2014 10:31 AM    Report this comment

I haven't been diagnosed with Celiac, but was put on an elimination diet in the spring and during the reintroduction phase discovered that gluten, soy, and dairy (along with a corn and barley allergy from childhood) are no-no's! I am a senior and find this a very difficult time in my life, but am learning how to manage eating pretty much a Paleo diet. I find bread making has become somewhat of a chore now as I've always made my own. Now, not using gluten flours turns out to produce "bricks" for loaves. I now I have so many Gluten Free cookbooks, but they all use dairy (which I have learned to substitute other types of milk), but cheese is another story completely! I guess I'm just ranting, but I will learn how to manage. Thank you for this article.

Posted by: Lougagne47 | November 4, 2014 9:44 AM    Report this comment

Can you give me more information on the names of labs for home testing kits

Posted by: kmuirhead | November 4, 2014 9:06 AM    Report this comment

We can choose to submit to expensive and sometimes inconclusive lab tests, or we can decide to let our own unique bodies be our guide. We now know what foods most frequently cause allergies, so we can try an elimination/reintroduction diet while keeping a food diary, including careful observation of symptoms and how we feel, and keeping in mind that some reactions can be delayed by as much as 72 hours, In any case, it is imperative that we always address healing our gut as part of the process of feeling better. As food allergy awareness grows, the community of people with multiple allergies also grows, and we become targets for new tests, procedures, and medications introduced by both well-meaning and profit-seeking companies. Good common sense, and sharing of ideas can be the best remedy for us all. Thank you, Living Without, for providing us with a forum for sharing.

Posted by: Sharon E | November 14, 2012 11:16 AM    Report this comment

Everyone likes the hard diagnosis but the better question is not whether a person has celiac disease or not but can they benefit from a gluten free diet (GFD). The treatment is the same whether a person has celiac or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. I have read a couple of studies that found that light microscope analysis in a biopsy missed most of the gluten related damage. Scanning electron microscope techniques were about 5 times better at detecting that damage. Therefore many negative biopsies really aren't negative at all, just not detected due to using a method that is too crude to pick it up. So I would say intestinal biopsy is the gold standard of celiac diagnosis if using an SEM. Before you ask your doctor about that, you aren't likely to find someone willing to go that route unless you are dealing with a research center that happens to be working on that question.

So back to the original comment, a person just has to know whether the probability is high that a gluten free diet will be beneficial regardless of the accuracy of the diagnosis. In my practice we have had great success with people who were never tested but understand the relationship between their symptoms, that is autoimmune disorders etc. and gluten. Others need to see something in black and white in their hands before they will make the jump to the GFD.

The comment about concurrent dairy and soy allergies is important. Most people are not just gluten sensitive but are sensitive to a variety of other common foods too. As well as antibody and genetic testing for gluten related issues, we also routinely run tests with Cyrex Labs and Alcat for cross reactive foods, that is foods that people on a gluten free diet tend to eat that the body may also react to like various components of diary, other grains and even non-related foods like quinoa and buckwheat. Like I told a good friend who was suffering from a couple of autoimmune conditions that I was certain his problem was related to gluten and also certain that other factors were involved too. We are waiting for the Alcat testing to see what else is contributing to his misery.

We use Enterolab for our genetic testing. They have been doing this for years and understand very well the clinical significance of the results. Price is not $500 but $150 and is a simple, CSI-type check swap. Daniel Schlenger, DC

Posted by: Daniel S | November 14, 2012 11:08 AM    Report this comment

I have been diagnosed with celiac for about 5 years now. Just the past few months I have felt bad every time I eat. I am afraid the new GF pizza place was not careful about cross contamination. I read that if the intestines are damaged (say eating gluten) then lactase can not be released to digest lactose. So often until the intestines are fully healed dairy is an issue because of a missing element of digestion as opposed to a dairy allergy. I am hoping to be able to add dairy back at some point, but am older and need longer to heal. Anyone heard of research on this? I'd love to learn more and/or verify this information.

Posted by: Katlyn S | November 13, 2012 9:35 PM    Report this comment

I could just insert my son's name into this story and it would be his. He is 10 years old and we've gone down the same exact path this year and literally visited the GI for results of his genetic testing yesterday. Same results - same story. Our GI did put him on a low fructose diet and we have found that to be helpful as well. We stay away from most packaged goods since most are highly processed and loaded with sugar - especially GF goods. Frustrating not to know exactly if he has celiac disease, but this path had made us highly aware of the foods that do harm our son's health and how we could improve our own eating habits and health from the foods we choose to put into our bodies.

Posted by: Natalie M | November 13, 2012 1:14 PM    Report this comment

New to Gluten Free & More?
Register for Free!

Already Registered?
Log In