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When gluten is hazardous to your health

Eydi Bauer suffered from undiagnosed chronic health problems for over 20 years. The holistic chiropractor and kinesiologist experienced unexplained joint pain, lethargy, intestinal problems, menstrual irregularities, and mood disorders. It took a serious health crisis before she got to the cause of her problems. At the age of 34, she was finally diagnosed with celiac disease. As soon as she went gluten free, her health was restored. Dr Bauer, also the author of the new book Life After Bread, a guide to get off gluten and reclaim your health, shares her story and tips to kick the gluten habit.

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Gluten intolerance is pervasive yet often unrecognized

According to Dr Bauer, one in three Americans has gluten intolerance, a hypersensitivity to gluten, the protein commonly found in wheat flour and in many popular foods in the all-American diet. Celiac disease, a more serious genetic disorder characterized by an autoimmune reaction to gluten that destroys the microvilli in the small intestines, affects at least one in every hundred Americans. But many people don’t even know they are suffering from a gluten-related condition.

“Gluten intolerance is a serious and widespread nutritional problem that is causing an incredible array of health problems in America,” says Dr Bauer, who saw a number of doctors about unexplainable and very distressing health problems. “It is also largely unrecognized by the Western medical establishment.” She was finally properly diagnosed with celiac disease by a holistic doctor.

“I had 20 year history of chronic symptoms, including digestive distress, bloating, joint pain, headaches, menstrual irregularities, low blood sugar, depression, anxiety, panic attacks and infertility,” explains the Mendocino chiropractor. “A holistic doctor finally diagnosed me by doing a stool test from Enterolab.” The test determines if antibodies against gluten or genetic markers for celiac disease or gluten intolerance are present and also tests for malabsoption of nutrients.

The health hazards of gluten

Having wheat-based cereal in the morning and a sandwich on whole wheat at lunch every day is a seemingly benign and normal part of life, but for people who have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, it can literally be life-threatening. “[It] can cause serious damage to the human body and the long term complications of undiagnosed celiac disease are many,” warns Dr Bauer, who, among other health issues, experienced miscarriages and infertility, which resulted in her not being able to have a child. “Chronic digestive problems lead to malabsortion, irritable bowel syndrome or even cancer of the stomach or bowel.”

Further, due to the loss of nutrients, long-term exposure to gluten can cause neuropathy (nerve pain and numbness), joint pain, inflammation or osteoporosis. Mental distress, depression, anxiety or even bipolar disorder are also common outcomes. “There is clear evidence that even diabetes or any other autoimmune disease can be caused by undiagnosed celiac disease or gluten intolerance,” Dr Bauer adds.

A gluten-free diet for all?

Going gluten-free may prove advantageous to people who don’t have gluten intolerance or celiac disease. “Although no other members of my family have been diagnosed with celiac disease, since my diagnosis, my mother, who has a history of digestive complaints, gastric reflux and bowel issues has gone gluten-free and her chronic symptoms have resolved,” explains Dr Bauer. “My brother, who is a musician has noticed beginning a gluten-free diet has increased his energy and his mind is much sharper. Both my niece and nephew are now on gluten-free diets, which has helped [with] temper tantrums and stomach complaints.”

Your body may react poorly to gluten, which can cause physical discomfort and, even worse, cause organ damage and other autoimmune complications like diabetes, psoriasis, skin ailments, bone and joint problems or arthritis. “Eating a strict gluten-free diet will often resolve most of these complications or prevent further progression,” says Dr Bauer, referring to the effects of gluten for people with diagnosed gluten issues as well as those who have undiagnosed reactions.

Going gluten-free

At first glance, the gluten-free diet can seem daunting, if not impossible. However, modifying your diet to include more simply prepared fresh foods, such as vegetables, fruit and proteins can actually improve your diet all the way around and even save you time in the kitchen. Food manufacturers have also made the gluten-free diet easier to follow.

“Going gluten-free is now easier than it has ever been before. Over 1,300 gluten-free products are now available on supermarket shelves in the United States,” says Dr Bauer. “There are alternatives to the most common favorite foods, including breads, bagels, beer, pasta, cereals, and even cakes, and other mainstay foods you are accustomed to.”

Tips for following a gluten-free diet

As you read Dr Bauer’s book Life After Bread, you soon realize how a gluten-free diet may just be your road to health and a higher quality of life. Not only does Dr Bauer explain the health dangers of a gluten-based diet, she makes it easy for the newly diagnosed or previously unsuccessful gluten-free diet followers to commit fully to gluten-free fare. Here are her helpful diet tips to go gluten-free.

1. Shop very carefully. “Read all labels and cook all meals at home the first month after diagnosis,” advises Dr Bauer. “Gluten is the protein part of wheat and is in almost all packaged foods. It is crucial to know what has gluten.”

2. Know the gluten culprits. Certain whole grains and products containing these grains can include gluten. Be cautious and steer clear of wheat, rye barley, barley malt, couscous, soy sauce, beer, crackers, bread, flour, breaded fried foods, cookies, cakes and other baked goods. Dr Bauer recommends buying only packaged foods or prepared foods that have a gluten-free label. She warns, “Wheat-free does not always mean gluten-free.”

3. Get a gluten-free dining card. Having gluten issues does not mean you have to eat only at home. Many restaurants are accommodating patrons with gluten intolerance or celiac disease. “Have a gluten-free dining card made up for when you do go out to eat,” suggests Dr Bauer. “There is one in my book or order them online.” Also, when you’re planning a meal out, call ahead and ask if a restaurant can and will prepare your food without gluten. Don’t be discouraged if a restaurant declines; there are other restaurants who will honor your gluten-free request.

4. Be careful with cross contamination. Avoiding gluten-based foods isn’t enough. If you have gluten issues, you need to be aware that cross-contamination can also occur. “Cross contamination of crumbs or sauces can occur when cutting boards or pans are shared in food preparation,” says Dr Bauer. Even toasters or counters that previously had gluten flour-based foods on them can cause gluten-related distress.

5. Eat simple. An effective — and healthy — way to avoid gluten is to comprise your diet of fresh foods, like lean fish, poultry, and meats from a butcher and produce from the co-op, natural foods store, or farmers market. The more you avoid processed and package foods, the more likely you’ll also avoid gluten.

A gluten-free holiday

The holiday season poses diet challenges for most people. All the extra desserts, feast-centric gatherings, and food-based gifts easily derail the best of nutritious intentions. Following a gluten-free diet may actually be helpful in avoiding the unhealthy holiday food hangover.

Dr Bauer’s advice? “Eat the salad and vegetables, turkey without the gravy and stuffing unless it was prepared gluten-free … and no rolls or cake!, she says. “Make your own gluten free desserts. There is an amazing gluten free pumpkin pie recipe in the book Life After Bread that I make every holiday so I know there is a desert that I can enjoy.”

Followed correctly, the gluten-free diet is much like a low-carbohydrate diet, which can help you stay healthy and trim at the holidays as well as all year round. Prepare your own holiday foods and be sure to educate others who may be cooking for you this holiday season.

Going gluten-free is a lifelong endeavor

The great majority of people with gluten issues can’t simply follow a gluten-free diet for a short amount of time and then expect to resort back to a diet containing gluten. Though going completely gluten-free may seem too much of a food feat, committing fully to gluten-free fare can make your life better in ways you may not even realize.

“You do need to make sure that you maintain proper nutrition and you will quickly find that becoming gluten-free may give you relief from pain and discomfort, increase your strength, and restore your vitality,” says Dr Bauer. Going gluten-free can help you reclaim your health and happiness and even allow you to truly enjoy eating with no ill effects.

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