Why Gluten Free May Set You Free!

After a 1-2 week trial of eliminating gluten, many people experience the improvement or elimination of one or more chronic health conditions.

Although some people need 3-4 weeks to see a difference, I’ve witnessed clients lose pounds and inches after struggling for years to lose weight. Many clients reported an amazing reduction of many health problems, including severe GI tract symptoms (IBS, bloating, weight gain, constipation and/or diarrhea).

So what is gluten and why is eating wheat and other gluten-containing foods a problem for so many people?

What is commonly referred to as “gluten” is really a protein group, made-up mainly of the proteins gliadin and glutenin. Gluten is found in wheat, rye and barley. (Oats have a similar polypeptide chain, and may not be harmful to those with “gluten intolerance” but often considered harmful to those with celiac disease).

Gluten intolerance (also referred to as “gluten sensitivity”) is different from celiac disease. In celiac disease, gliadin causes damage to the villi, structures in the lining of the small intestine. Most of nutrient absorption takes place in the small intestine, which is 21 feet long! Healthy villi in the small intestine are necessary for nutrient absorption.

The only treatment for celiac disease is a diet free of the harmful peptides in wheat, rye, barley, and (possibly) oats. One in 133 people are celiac, and many more may be gluten intolerant. Celiac is an autoimmune disease. Currently, there is no evidence that those with gluten intolerance sustain damage to the small intestine. However, they may present with symptoms similar to celiacs.

Often, a multitude of health problems not related to digestion also may be linked to gluten intolerance and/or celiac disease.

Not everyone with either celiac disease or gluten intolerance experience the “classic” symptoms: diarrhea, weight loss, bloating and abdominal pain. Sometimes, they have depression, joint pain, infertility, irritability, weight/gain or an itchy skin rash. Therefore, celiac or gluten intolerance may be confused or misdiagnosed as IBS, iron-deficiency anemia, chronic fatigue syndrome and other digestive/nutritional disorders. Also, people with celiac may have other autoimmune diseases, such as thyroid disease, type 1 diabetes, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. To make matters worse, it often takes 10 years after the presence of symptoms for an adult to be diagnosed with celiac disease in the United States.

If you are gluten intolerant, the most obvious way to discover it is to remove gluten-containing (usually wheat) products from your diet. You may notice surprising improvements in your health, some which do not relate to the digestive system. You may notice an improvement in mental clarity, reduced mood swings and/or improved energy. You may be able to finally lose weight and keep it off. Perhaps you experience freedom from sinus problems and allergies. Some people report improved blood sugar control and a reduction of joint pain.

So what’s really going on here? Haven’t humans eaten wheat for a long time?

It’s not that simple. Throughout most of agricultural history, grains were sprouted, which lowers the gluten content. In addition, to compound the problem of over-processed wheat common in the American food supply, the modern day storage of wheat requires the use of chemicals to prevent bacteria and fungal growth. One theory as to why many people are emerging as gluten intolerant is that constant exposure to these pesticides and herbicides may tax the immune system. (70-80% of the immune system is related to the GI tract). Another theory suggests the modern day wheat supply lacks the genetic variety characteristic in the wheat of our ancestors.

According to Dr. Oddveig Myhre, a naturopathic physician, constant stress affects overall digestive health, making us more vulnerable to gluten intolerance: If you are under stress – or your body perceives you are – your gut health is affected and digestion is impaired. As a result, proteins such as gluten that are difficult to digest become more taxing on the digestive system.

Some physicians believe anyone with chronic digestive issues may benefit from a gluten-free trial lasting several weeks.

There is controversy swirling around those jumping into the gluten-free lifestyle without testing. If someone is celiac, without testing, he or she may never know. Therefore, s/he may not embark on completely gluten-free diet, thinking s/he is only “gluten intolerant”. This may be dangerous, as someone who is celiac, rather than simply “gluten intolerant”, may suffer severe intestinal damage if s/he continues to intentionally eat gluten.

Testing for celiac is confusing, as standard blood tests only are technically only used for screening, and not considered diagnostic. The most common blood tests are IgG or IgA, in which the physician is looking for anti-gliadin antibodies. However, only an intestinal biopsy that demonstrates intestinal damage is considered the “gold standard” for an official diagnosis of celiac disease.

A naturopath is able to test for gluten intolerance. Any physician may order an IgG or IgA blood test.

If you are gluten intolerant or celiac, consult a nutrition professional to make sure you are eating properly, and to learn how to detect hidden sources of gluten.

You may feel like a new person — sooner, rather than later!

About Romy Nelson
Owner and operator of Essential Fitness, Inc., Romy is a nutritionist, media consultant and author. Her main goal is to teach individuals how to make long-term lifestyle changes, and break free from unhealthy eating patterns and the cycle of yo-yo dieting

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