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Gluten: The Hidden Cause of Your Health Problems?

January 31, 2010 - Elissa Goodman

Wheat
It's hard to believe that eating a slice of whole wheat bread, a staple of the American diet, could actually be bad for you, right?   But in some cases, gluten can cause serious health problems. Those problems often continue for years as they are incorrectly attributed to various diseases, when all along the problem was simply gluten.

Gluten is a special type of protein commonly found in wheat - anything from breads to processed foods.   It can also be hidden in everyday products such as medicines, vitamins, and lip balms. 

Celiac disease, the most serious form of allergy to gluten, is a digestive disease where people cannot tolerate gluten. However, gluten can cause serious health complications and potentially put you at risk even if you don’t have full-blown celiac disease.

Undiagnosed sensitivity to gluten - a major problem in America

Celiac disease affects one in 100 people, or three million Americans. Milder forms of gluten sensitivity are even more common and may affect up to one-third of Americans. People diagnosed with gluten sensitivity have a higher risk of death, mostly from heart disease and cancer. Having said that, there's now groundbreaking research that proves you don’t have to have full-blown celiac disease with a positive intestinal biopsy (which is what conventional thinking tells us) to have serious health problems and complications (even death) from consuming gluten. Compared with 50 years ago, today there’s been a 400% increase in incidences of full-blown celiac disease. 

Undiagnosed gluten problems are my main concern.  An estimated 99% of people who have a problem with eating gluten don’t even know it! They ascribe their ill health or symptoms to something else – not gluten sensitivity, which is 100% curable.

How do you know if you suffer from gluten sensitivity? 

The simplest procedure to test gluten sensitivity is the elimination/reintegration diet: eliminate all gluten in your diet for two to four weeks and see how you feel. When I say eliminate, I mean completely get rid of 100% of gluten – no exceptions, no hidden gluten, not a single crumb of bread! (Go to www.celiac.com for a complete list of foods that contain gluten, as well as often surprising and hidden sources of gluten). 

The alternative is to take a gluten allergy/celiac disease test that will identify various forms of sensitivities to gluten or wheat that are available through Quest Diagnostics or Labcorp. Just remember that any elevation of antibodies is significant and worth a trial of gluten elimination. “False-positives” do not exist – positive is positive and if your antibodies are elevated at ALL you should go off gluten and test to see if it is leading to your health problems.

Why haven’t you heard about this sooner? 

Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity masquerade as dozens of other diseases. Diseases that can be caused by eating gluten are osteoporosis, IBS, anemia, cancer, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and numerous other autoimmune diseases. Studies have also linked gluten to many neurological and psychiatric diseases such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, epilepsy, dementia, and even autism. 

Gluten sensitivity is actually characterized as an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation throughout the body, with wide-ranging effects across all organ systems including your brain, heart, joints, digestive tract, and more. It's hard to imagine that it can be the single cause behind such a variety of diseases. You must treat the cause of the disease – which may, in fact, be gluten sensitivity – not just the symptoms.

Why are we so sensitive to this seemingly healthy staple of our diet? 

Firstly – making Wonder Bread and giant bagels requires different “American” strains of wheat that have a much higher gluten content that those traditionally found in other parts of the world. This “super-gluten” was introduced into our agricultural food supply and now has “infected” nearly all wheat strains in America. 

Finding out if gluten may be the hidden cause of your health problems is critical. By simply eliminating gluten from your diet, you may be able to achieve vibrant health - that lasts a lifetime!  Check out http://www.csaceliacs.org/gluten_choices.php for more information on gluten-free products. 

Elissa Goodman is an Integrative Nutritionist based in Los Angeles.  For more, check out her website.

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