new_health (2005-44)

Gluten Free in Tennessee

Give abstinence from offending foods a chance

by Wendy C. Smith

I suppose we’ve all heard something about gluten intolerance or noticed gluten-free products on grocery shelves, but how many of us know much about this? First of all, gluten is a protein found in the four main grains: wheat, rye, barley and oats. It’s an incomplete protein, meaning that it is deficient in lysine and thus not a truly usable or good protein for the body.

Gluten is the cohesive, elastic stuff in bread dough that has to be kneaded and developed for the bread to rise. It’s found in thousands of foods, yet the body has to grow into digesting it. In fact, babies are given rice formulas because their digestive tracts can handle it much easier than wheat formulas.

Gluten intolerance is a physical sensitivity to gluten. A person who is gluten intolerant may be able to ingest gluten with a few side effects or may not be able to ingest gluten at all without a wide range of serious results. Gluten intolerance is hereditary. If a person is gluten intolerant, then so are members of the immediate family, even if they are asymptomatic.

There are two main types of recognized gluten sensitivities: non-celiac gluten sensitivity (a.k.a. NCGS, usually referred to as gluten intolerant) and celiac disease. Non-celiac gluten sensitive people will test negatively for celiac disease but can have many of the symptoms of celiac disease and can be just as debilitated or inconvenienced by it. People with celiac disease vary in their tolerance to gluten and their range of symptoms. Gluten intolerance is also strange in that it can be triggered by a life event such as divorce, serious illness or job loss. A person might find herself gluten intolerant after a life trauma and either recover, or not. Gluten intolerance may simply also be triggered by over-exposure to wheat.

I love bread. Who doesn’t enjoy a fluffy roll slathered in butter or olive oil and herbs? The idea of being gluten intolerant pangs my little yeast-loving heart. Yet thousands of people are. It is thought that 15 percent of the population (about one in seven) is NCGS while .5 percent of the population will test positive for celiac disease. Women are twice as likely to be affected as men. The symptoms of gluten intolerance and celiac disease are similar and overlapping and include headaches, mouth ulcers, weight gain or loss, poor disease immunity and skin ailments, such as eczema and dermatitis.

Celiac disease is caused when gluten damages the lining of the intestines by flattening or atrophying the villi, the little fingerlike projections that absorb water and nutrients. This allows the intestines to be susceptible to a wide range of other conditions related to malabsorption. Other symptoms of celiac disease include gas, bloating and abdominal pain. Not all the symptoms have to do with the gut either. Fatigue, depression, irritability, muscle cramps can all be caused by celiac disease. If the disease goes untreated, malnutrition can occur, and the disease can become life-threatening.

Dermatitis herpetiformis, another gluten-intolerant disease linked to celiac disease, is an immune response to gluten and produces little watery, itchy blisters that might resemble pimples or a bacterial skin infection. The outbreaks usually occur on pressure points on the body; the elbows, buttocks, scalp or back. Eruptions range from mild to severe depending on the person’s intake of gluten and their sensitivity to it.

Luckily, although there’s no cure for gluten intolerance, celiac disease or dermatitis herpetiformis, diet can alleviate the majority of symptoms. Gluten-intolerant individuals should remove the following foods from their diets: barley, wheat (including spelt, durum, graham, and semolina), malt, rye and oats (although pure, cooked oats are usually fine). Other foods that usually contain grains and grain by-products are breading, soup bases, flour products, cereal products, thickeners, imitation seafood and marinades to name a few. It’s very important for people with any sort of gluten intolerance or gluten-intolerance disease to be aware of the various ways grains manifest in foods and especially in processed foods.

On the other hand, depending on the degree of intolerance, many of these foods are OK in small amounts. Because food is basically the culprit and the remedy for gluten intolerance, it’s fairly easy for a person to evaluate how gluten intolerant he or she is and to make diet adjustments that will help keep problems at bay. A 30-day gluten-free diet can be enough for a person to see benefits. One school of thought holds that gluten causes internal inflammation thought to be a major source of many illnesses, so many people are attempting to go gluten-free for basic health reasons. As a result, there are many gluten-free products on the market today. Anyone with gluten intolerance now has a much larger grocery offering than ever before.

I’ve never been diagnosed as gluten intolerant, but I do think that watching my gluten intake is helpful to my health. If going gluten-free or partially gluten-free is helpful in any way, why not?

© 2005 MetroPulse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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