Should you avoid gluten?

February 24, 2012

Celiac disease, Diet, Health

Even for people without celiac disease, eliminating or restricting gluten can make profound changes in the body. Scores of health problems are exacerbated by gluten, which negatively affects the body’s overall health.

by Dr. Paul Stallone — 

Chances are you have heard about gluten and the benefits of eliminating it from your diet. But do you know what gluten is and why it is bad for your health?

Gluten is a substance made up of the proteins found in wheat flour. Gluten is truly only found in wheat, while other grains contain a protein that is remarkably similar in molecular composition and can generate the same negative responses. The problem begins when gluten is eaten; instead of the body digesting the protein, it attacks, causing a series of negative biochemical reactions.

Gluten sensitivity is actually an autoimmune disease that creates inflammation throughout the body, affecting vital organ systems, including the brain, heart and digestive tract, as well as joints and more. When the body continuously attacks itself, the long-term consequences can be significant and life-threatening.

For people who have been diagnosed with celiac disease, gluten causes serious health-related issues, as gluten is recognized by the immune system as an invading foreign enemy and therefore needs to be destroyed.

A multitude of symptoms can occur when people who are sensitive to gluten consume it. Abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, intestinal ulcers and lesions, depression, skin rashes, migraine headaches, osteoporosis, iron-deficiency anemia, mood disorders and significant weight loss are all common symptoms that can plague the unsuspecting gluten-sensitive person.

Those afflicted with celiac disease should avoid foods containing gluten. This can be harder than just eliminating bread products. Gluten is added to countless foods for various reasons. It stops food from sticking to itself; it is added as a filler to burgers and sausages; it is used to thicken sauces and as a coating agent; and it adds flavor to pastries and bread.

Since gluten is slipped into so many of our everyday foods, it can be difficult to tell if a product contains it. Refer to the ingredient label on the packaging and if wheat, rye, barley, malt or oats are listed, that food contains gluten.

It is fairly easy to determine if you are gluten-sensitive, and testing only takes a few weeks. For anyone suffering from chronic inflammation or an autoimmune disease, trying an elimination diet can be life-altering. Since gluten sensitivity cannot be controlled with medication, a diet free of the protein is the only answer. Knowing if you are sensitive or intolerant will allow for a better recovery.

To perform the testing at home, simply remove all gluten from your diet. This will take research and determination, as gluten is added to almost all processed foods. Once you have successfully eliminated gluten for 2 to 4 weeks, try eating some bread and wait for the response. Listen to your body and see if you react badly; if so, you are probably sensitive and should sit down with your physician to discuss your options.

If you want an official test, kits can be ordered that detect any elevated antibodies. As with most illnesses, the severity can vary from patient to patient, with one person being affected more than someone else with the same disease.

There may be confusion as to who really needs to avoid gluten. The fact is that the human body does not necessarily require gluten. However, grains (where gluten is found) are a valuable part of an essential diet that provide fiber, vitamins and minerals, and should be in most everyone’s daily diet. So, be sure to pick the grains without gluten.

Even for people without celiac disease, eliminating or restricting gluten can make profound changes in the body. Scores of health problems are exacerbated by gluten, which negatively affects the body’s overall health.

Gluten also has been known to set off dormant health issues, creating havoc after years of eating the protein. Eliminating gluten itself is very good for overall health but, eradicating the foods it is typically found in is immensely beneficial.

Gluten is found in almost all processed foods and breads, so when these already unhealthy foods are avoided, the healthier foods will flourish, giving you better health in the long run. Some grains can be found without gluten: quinoa, millet and rice are all great gluten-free alternatives. If processed in a gluten-free facility, rice, corn and certain oats are good choices.

There are many options for living without this substance; it just takes time and patience. Consulting with a knowledgeable physician can also save time and reduce confusion or failure.

Eliminating gluten is a lifestyle change that requires research and dedication, but will ultimately be well worth the effort.

Th following are some interesting facts about gluten intolerance and celiac disease.

  • Gluten intolerance is also known as celiac disease or celiac sprue, an autoimmune digestive disease that damages the villi of the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients from food.
  • One in 133 Americans suffers from celiac disease — or an estimated 2.8 million Americans.
  • 95 percent of celiacs are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.
  • It takes the average person 6 to 10 years to be correctly diagnosed.
  • 5 to 22 percent of celiac patients have an immediate family member who also has celiac disease.
  • Celiac disease can lead to a number of other disorders including infertility, reduced bone density, neurological disorders, some cancers and other autoimmune diseases.
  • There are no pharmaceutical cures for celiac disease.
  • A 100 percent gluten-free diet is the only existing treatment for celiac disease.
  • The celiac disease diagnosis rate may reach 50 to 60 percent by 2019.
  • Gluten-free sales were expected to reach $2.8 billion by the end of 2010.
  • Among people suffering from chronic digestive, rheumatological, autoimmune, hormonal, neurological and psychological disorders, the prevalence of gluten intolerance is substantially higher than that of the general population.
Paul Stallone, N.M.D., founded the Arizona Integrative Medical Center in Scottsdale, Ariz. He combines natural, alternative and conventional treatments to best fit each individual patient’s needs. or 480-214-3922.

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 30, Number 1, Feb/Mar 2011.


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