"Gluten Free" is the current health buzz word. It is a craze. You find gluten free products on every shelf, gluten free menus, gluten free websites etc, etc, etc. Given the amount of attention Gluten Free everything is getting it does make sense that we ask ourselves "Can this help me?" "Is this a healthier way to live?" "Should I be on a gluten free diet?"
Guys, the answer is usually NO!
People who have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease are helped by maintaining a gluten free diet. Approximately 1% of American's have Celiac Disease.
Let's first start by finding out a little bit more about Celiac disease and Gluten.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a type of protein. It’s found in wheat, rye and barley, so is in a lot of bread products; it’s what gives our bread that chewy texture. This gluten free craze has people believing that gluten is something that is bad and should be avoided. However, gluten is actually a protein that our bodies need and there are many problems that can come from avoiding gluten in your diet.
What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is a condition that damages the lining of the small intestine. This damage prevents the intestines from absorbing parts of food that are important for staying healthy. The lining of the intestines contains areas called villi, which help absorb nutrients. When people with Celiac disease eat foods or use products that contain gluten, their immune system reacts by damaging these villi. The damage is due to a reaction to eating gluten, which is found in wheat, barley, rye, and possibly oats. Untreated, Celiac Disease can lead to malnutrition and ultimately a host of other complications. When the sufferer is put on a Gluten Free diet their disease is controlled and symptoms are relieved.
How Do I Find Out If I Have Celiac Disease?
Those that suffer from Celiac Disease present with a multitude of symptoms but may be different for each person. They include some of the following: Abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, decreased appetite, weight loss, malnutrition, lactose intolerance, stools that float, nausea or vomiting.
These symptoms usually lead a person to their physician who can do a series of blood tests called antitissue transglutaminase antibodies (tTGA) or anti-endomysium antibodies (EMA). Genetic blood testing is also available to determine if a person is at risk for the disease.
If those tests are positive the physician will recommend an endoscopy or upper GI. During this test a biopsy is taken of duodenum tissue to observe for the damaged villi. (By the way, an endoscopy is neither painful nor uncomfortable, it is an easy procedure.)
If you have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease your physician will prescribe a Gluten Free Diet.
Eating Gluten Free Makes Me Feel Better
I must know of a dozen people who are on a gluten free diet. They do not have Celiac Disease but the claim eating gluten free "makes them feel better". The fact is that there is a small percentage of people in the world who do have a sensitivity to gluten but do not actually have Celiac Disease. This sensitivity should be diagnosed by your physician and a gluten free diet prescribed by your doctor before implementing it on your own.
Risks of Eating Gluten Free
Eliminating gluten from your diet requires eliminating an entire food category. This, of course, can lead to nutrient deficiencies. Gluten free products tend to be low in B vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and fiber.
Following a gluten free diet requires diligence and paying constant attention to what you are eating. It is not for the faint of heart. To follow a modified gluten free diet or an almost gluten free diet is ineffective in controlling symptoms. Even trace amounts of gluten can cause symptoms and damage to the intestines.
Embarking upon a gluten free diet based upon a self diagnosis is unwise and probably not helpful. If you feel you may have Celiac Disease or a gluten sensitivity then, please, go see your doctor and let him do the tests he feel necessary to diagnose you. Then follow the plan he recommends for you. Do not implement a gluten free diet on your own, it is most likely you will not need to live gluten free.
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