The Gluten Hype

January 4, 2013

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The presence of gluten-free foods has
sky-rocketed across the nation and is causing some confusion. Some think that
it can be used as a new fad diet, while others think that Celiac’s disease and
gluten sensitivity are the same thing. First, let us determine what this
“gluten stuff” actually is.

 Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley,
rye and other grains. The two most talked about issues relating to gluten are
gluten sensitivity and Celiac’s disease. These
two diseases are often incorrectly used interchangeably
. In reality the two
differ dramatically in the way the body reacts to the presence of gluten. Gluten
sensitivity is intolerance to gluten. This means that when those with the
sensitivity consume gluten their immune system will exhibit allergic-reaction-type
symptoms including diarrhea, a skin rash, bloating, constipation, and abdominal
cramps and pain. There is no permanent damage to the body and no chronic
illnesses will result.

has the same symptoms as gluten sensitivity initially, but can
result in chronic illnesses if left untreated. Celiac’s disease is an autoimmune
response that is triggered when the body of the person with the disease is
exposed to gluten. Villi are tiny hair-like projections in the small intestine
that help the body absorb nutrients. The autoimmune response of Celiac’s
disease flattens and consequently destroys these villi, making it almost
impossible for the small intestine to absorb the nutrients the body needs to
survive. Major nutrients that are affected with Celiac’s disease are folate,
iron and calcium because they are predominantly absorbed in the first part of
the small intestine where the villi can be damaged. The absorption of other
nutrients may be affected as well, resulting in many malnutrition-related
issues including osteoporosis, anemia, joint pain, muscle cramps, seizures,
amenorrhea, infertility, weight changes, dental problems, fatigue. Sometimes
the person may exhibit behavior changes such as depression, anxiety and ADHD.  In the United States alone, .7% of the
populations (2 million people) have Celiac’s disease. For many, it takes
several attempts to diagnose it because of the similar symptoms to irritable
bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, diverticulitis, and iron deficiency. It is
crucial that Celiac’s is diagnosed correctly because of the chronic effects
described above. Another important detail to the disease that many may or may
not think of is the gluten content in cosmetic products, over-the-counter and
prescription drugs and even some craft supplies. For those with Celiac’s
disease, reading the labels of these products in addition to food products
become essential. Simply because the label advertizes the food as “gluten-free”
does not mean that it avoided cross-contamination with other foods that contain
gluten. Even the slightest amount of gluten can cause problems with this

Some people choose to eat foods
that do not contain gluten as a means to lose weight. This is strongly
discouraged for multiple reasons. Firstly, just because a food is listed as
gluten-free does not mean it is low-fat, low-calorie and all around healthy for
you. Second, eliminating entire food groups without medical reasons to do so
can be detrimental to your body. A large portion of the carbohydrates (our
body’s energy source) we consume contain gluten. The avoidance of gluten
results in less carbohydrate consumption which results in energy-loss. Lastly,
avoiding carbohydrates can trigger the starvation mechanism of the body which
causes the storage of fat, in turn causing the person to actually gain weight.

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