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Gluten-Free Diet: Fad or Something To Consider?

beth December 11, 2012

This guest post comes to us from Lori of  NutritionalHealthandHealing.net:

Often written-off as a passing fad, gluten-free eating has been becoming increasingly popular in recent years. The gluten-free processed food market has grown considerably, as well as cookbooks and websites. Is a gluten-free diet something you should consider? What symptoms would motivate a person to look into eliminating gluten from their diet?

What is gluten?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. In certain susceptible people, it can cause a variety of symptoms ranging from anxiety to osteoporosis to obesity. Unfortunately, most doctors only consider it when the patient presents with the traditional symptoms of gastrointestinal distress. However, a recent study indicates that “for every symptomatic patient with celiac disease there are eight patients with celiac disease and NO gastrointestinal symptoms”.

Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance

These are the people who have often resigned themselves to a diagnosis of chronic fatigue, arthritis, MS, migraines, or cancer, never knowing that there could be a treatable cause. In fact, according to Dr. David Clark, functional neurologist and endocrinologist, “There’s not a disease or health condition you can think of that does not have an association – in the research literature – with gluten sensitivity.” In other words, any health condition could have its roots in gluten sensitivity.

An article in the New England Journal of Medicine recently listed 55 diseases that can be caused by eating gluten. Some of the most surprising ones include:

Chronic Fatigue – According to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence guidelines, “Any and every person with prolonged fatigue (“tired all the time”) should be tested for celiac disease.”

Brain Health and Neurological Diseases – According to the British Medical Journal, “Gluten sensitivity can be primarily and at times exclusively a neurological disease.” If you or a family member suffers from anxiety, depression, Obsessive-Compulsive disorder, Alzheimers, behavioral disorders, schizophrenia, or epilepsy, even if you have no other symptoms, removing gluten from the diet has been shown in a significant number of cases to greatly improve or even resolve symptoms.

Diseases of the skin – Gluten can be responsible for many different skin diseases including rashes and psoriasis. In one study, more than 34% of patients with psoriasis had elevated antibodies to alpha-gliadin, a peptide of wheat.

Osteoporosis – Because gluten damages the intestine and causes impaired absorption of vitamins and minerals, osteoporosis is often the result. Everyone with osteoporosis should be evaluated for gluten intolerance or at least be given a gluten-free trial.

So why aren”t more people tested for gluten intolerance?

First, only recently have truly accurate tests become available. With previous tests, 7 out of 10 results came back with false negatives, meaning that the test says gluten is OK to consume when it’s really not. Unfortunately most doctors and their patients have believed the tests have crossed off gluten as the cause of their problem. This has led not only to an underestimation of how widespread the problem really is, but has not allowed researchers to connect gluten sensitivity with the diseases it causes. With more accurate testing available, doctors are becoming more aware of not only how common gluten intolerance is, but also aware of the various ways it can affect those who are susceptible. Cyrex Labs offers an extensive array of tests that check for several different types of gluten sensitivity as well as for cross reactivity with other foods. Hopefully in the future, gluten sensitivity will be commonly tested as a first resort, and even in the case of a negative test result, a gluten free trial will be considered.

Second, gluten intolerance has become more prevalent over the years. According to a study in the Annals of Medicine, “The prevalence of celiac disease has increased five-fold overall since 1974. This increase was not due to increased sensitivity of testing, but rather due to an increasing number of subjects that lost the immunological tolerance to gluten in their adulthood.” Currently, research has indicated that as many as one in every five people has some form of gluten intolerance.

Removing Gluten from Your Diet

Removing gluten from the diet can seem like an overwhelming task. A typical diet includes multiple daily servings of wheat in the form of bread, pasta, and cookies. However, wheat is also hiding in many unsuspected places including salad dressings, soy sauce, French fries, breading in fried foods, and even in prescription and over-the-counter medicines. Eating gluten-free requires a commitment to reading labels as well as learning to recognize the many names that gluten can take and researching the unexpected places it can hide. When properly implemented, improvement of symptoms can usually be seen within a few weeks, but often it can take several months or even years for recovery. Occasionally there has been damage done that cannot be completely reversed, which indicates why it is so important to identify and eliminate gluten as soon as possible if it is the root problem.

Contacting a Nutritional Consultant who specializes in gluten sensitivity can be very helpful and save lots of time and frustration. They can help you identify gluten in your diet and eliminate much of the detective work. They can direct you to resources to ease your transition, as well as provide recipes and ideas for gluten-free foods.

Have you tried a gluten-free diet? What results did you see?

Lori Clemmons is a Certified Nutritional Consultant with NutritionalHealthandHealing.net. She has 3 children – two of whom are gluten intolerant. She has been working with gluten-free diets since 1998.

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3 Comments

  1. I was diagnosed with a wheat allergy or sensitivity as a baby. (I realize that’s not the same as celiac.) Well I began eating wheat later in childhood and continued to do so. But after a recent grain free experiment (to help my daughter with some health issues) I realized that when I eat wheat, I get constant post nasal drip, headaches, jaw and neck pain and stiffness, brain fog, bloating and rashes.

    I sometimes think the increased levels of gluten sensitivities has much to do with the processed, engineered modern wheat as well as our overall bad health in our guts, damaged by the Standard American Diet.

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  2. I have been eating a gluten free diet for 2 months now on the recommendation from my chiropractor. I’ve had severe migraines, excessive fatigue, and unexplained weight gain for the last 4-5 years as well as irregularity in the bathroom. None of my symptoms have gone away…but the bathroom one has gotten much better. I’ve heard it takes close to a year to really get the full benefit. I’m really hoping it works.

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I’m Kate, mama to 5 and wife to Ben.  I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.  I’m also a big fan of “fancy” drinks (anything but plain water counts as ‘fancy’ in my world!) and I can’t stop myself from DIY-ing everything.  I sure hope you’ll stick around so I can get to know you better!

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