Are you one of the millions of people who love bagels for breakfast or bread with dinner? Let’s face it bread is one of the staples in the food chain that has sustained hungry eaters for centuries.
Why then is there so much talk about the adverse affects of consuming gluten? Bread is supposed to be good for you, right? This may be true for most people but not for others who experience symptoms such as bloating and diarrhea. Some of my patients even complain of fatigue, weight loss, and perhaps muscle and joint pain. When I delve further into their eating habits to determine the cause of their problem, nine times out of ten I find their symptoms tied to gluten sensitivity.
What is gluten sensitivity and how do you know if you have it? If you are asking yourself this question, you are not alone. Let me explain.
“Gluten” is a family of proteins found in wheat along with oats, rye, and barley. Gluten sensitivity is caused by an immune reaction to the gluten. A simple blood test can determine whether you have specific antibodies to gluten. An inherited form of gluten sensitivity is called Celiac Disease and can affect 1 out of 133 people. Celiac Disease is often diagnosed by a biopsy of the small intestine that may reveal physical damage. Other forms of gluten sensitivity or allergy can develop as people grow older.
What Happens If You Keep Eating Gluten?
Some of the symptoms of gluten sensitivity are felt in the digestive tract. Others are more generalized. The body releases chemicals during many immune responses that can cause the vague symptoms of joint pain, fatigue, and muscle pain.
If the gluten-sensitive person continues to eat gluten-containing food, the body will keep making antibodies to gluten. This immune reaction causes physical damage to the lining of the small intestine and makes it difficult for the body to absorb nutrients. This leads to diarrhea and weight loss. If left unchecked, the damage can eventually be life-threatening. Fortunately the small intestine has the ability to regenerate healthy cells and it will recover over time if gluten is removed from the diet.
What If You’re Gluten Sensitive?
Listed below are just a few things you can do if you suspect you might have some of the symptoms described above:
• Check with your doctor and ask for a blood test to determine if you are gluten sensitive.
• Look for foods made with oats, quinoa, rice, corn, millet, and amaranth.
• Prepared foods, such as frozen macaroni and cheese, will list the gluten content on the package.
• Website to gluten-free recipes, products, and local support groups are available online.
• Ask your market to offer tours highlighting gluten-free items on the shelves.
• Request your local market expand gluten-free options.
• Restaurants and cruise ships often have gluten-free options for pizza, pasta, and breads.
• With gluten sensitivity becoming so well-known, you might find if you ask for gluten-free food when you dine out, others in your group will ask for it as well.
• If temptation is an issue, ask to have baskets of crackers and bread taken away after the other guests have helped themselves.
Keep Your Digestive Tract Healthy!
Once you eliminate gluten and your digestive tract is healing, there are ways to keep it working well. Eat a variety of healthy fruits and vegetables. At night, drink a glass of water with a spoonful of psyllium husks mixed in. This adds fiber and helps remove unwanted material from the body. Yogurt can help restore the balance of intestinal bacteria, which is important for digesting food.
Damage caused by gluten sensitivity can interfere with the body’s ability to process food. Your digestive system may need some help in returning to health. Here are some natural ways to help with healing.
• Take a multivitamin, because a damaged intestine absorbs less of the nutrients in food
• L-glutamine is helpful for healing the lining of the small intestine
• A probiotic supplement can help restore the good bacteria in the intestine
• Digestive enzymes can help your system digest food while the natural enzyme balance is recovering
• Fiber, such as psyllium and flax, can help the intestines to function efficiently
If you have been suffering for months or years with gluten sensitivity, be patient. Give your body time to heal once you remove gluten from your diet. Avoid the bakery counter, and instead eat healthy, gluten-free foods. A gluten-free eating plan can lead you to a delicious diet that is better for your overall health!
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Institute For Healthy Aging