Courtesy of Alternative Medicine
Posted: 8/2/2005 1:56:00 PM
Wheat was one of the first grains to be harvested by man thousands of years ago and is an important part of the diet throughout much of the world. It is used in more foods than any other cereal grain and is the most consumed staple food in the United States. Unfortunately, some people do not tolerate this common grain and must learn to live without it.
Millions may be unaware that their suffering from common ailments like heartburn, headaches, and digestive problems is because of a wheat allergy or gluten intolerance (celiac disease). In addition, a growing number of parents with children who have autism are adopting gluten free lifestyles hoping to see improvements in their children.
Gluten intolerance, also known as celiac disease or celiac sprue , is a chronic condition in which people do not tolerate the protein gluten found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt and possibly oats. Consumption of this protein damages the lining of the small intestines and can lead to a myriad of health problems. The disease is more common than previously thought, affecting 1 in 133 Americans. Some believe it may even be more prevalent than that. It is hereditary, so if a close relative has the condition you are at an increased risk for the disease.
Celiac disease can elicit a wide range of symptoms that can vary in intensity, making diagnosis a challenge. Some gastrointestinal symptoms include bloating, gas, indigestion, and heartburn. People may experience either diarrhea or constipation and there may be weight loss, but that is not always the case. There are many other symptoms which can include anemia, arthritis, depression, fatigue, osteoporosis, stunted growth in children and skin disorders. Because many of these symptoms are also common in those without celiac disease, someone can suffer for years or decades and not know the reason behind their sub-optimal health.
Finding a healthcare professional who works to understand the cause of the symptoms, rather than just cover them up, is essential in diagnosing celiac disease. According to an article by the National Institutes of Health, the average time it takes for diagnosis is ten years! Physicians will consider your history and symptoms and will often do blood work and an intestinal biopsy for an accurate diagnosis.
Untreated celiac disease can increase the risk for certain intestinal cancers and autoimmune disorders, not to mention the continuation of the symptoms of the disease. The only way to treat celiac disease is to follow a gluten free diet for life. Adhering to the diet can drastically reduce the risk of associated complications and relieve symptoms.
A wheat allergy is different from celiac disease in that it stimulates the immune system to attack the wheat, not the small intestines. If someone is allergic to wheat they may experience itching, sneezing, watery eyes, and digestive problems. In rare cases a life threatening anaphylactic reaction can occur. Some chronic conditions that may be attributed to a wheat allergy are asthma, migraines, eczema, and irritable bowel syndrome. Some symptoms can take hours and even days to appear, making the connection to wheat difficult to figure out. Your doctor can do skin-prick test or blood test to determine if you have an allergy to wheat. Many people with wheat allergies are also allergic to other foods.
Over the past decade, there has been an autism explosion and unfortunately there is no known cause or cure for this devastating disorder leaving many parents to search for answers on their own. In recent years there has been increased interest in the potential of the gluten free casein free diet (GFCF diet) to help these children.
This diet is based on the theory that those with autism cannot properly breakdown gluten and casein leading to increased absorption and circulation of these proteins (casein is a protein found in dairy products). Excess amounts of these circulating proteins may affect brain function, almost like a drug.
The growing popularity of the diet is largely based on anecdotal reports from parents, but there is some research which supports this theory. A few of the benefits that parents report include increased alertness and attention, more use of language, less aggression, and improvements in GI problems.
The Autism Network for Dietary Intervention recommends parents keep their children on the diet for at least three months as it may take this long to see any changes. Of course they also want parents to understand that this diet does not work for every child with autism.
What You Can’t Eat
It may sound simple; just avoid any food with wheat, rye, spelt, or barley if you are trying to avoid gluten. However, there are thousands of products made with these ingredients that many people don’t consider. Some research suggests oats may be OK on a gluten free diet, but there are concerns of wide-spread contamination with other gluten containing grains.
The following list is only a small sample of the many foods and ingredients available that contain gluten: Whole wheat, enriched flour, durum, semolina, farina, couscous, gluten, spelt, barley malt, beer, seitan, graham flour, malt, and Brewer’s yeast. Think about how many products you consume on a daily basis that contains some of these ingredients. Most bread, pastas, cold cereals, crackers, cookies, and other baked snack goods contain one or more of these. Some foods may contain gluten sometimes, but not always. It depends on how and where the product was made. This can be very frustrating for the gluten-free shopper. A few food ingredients that may or may not contain gluten include: modified food starch, dextrin, miso, and “natural flavorings”. For example, modified food starch can be made with wheat, rice, corn, potato, or tapioca, depending on the manufacturer.
Someone trying to follow a completely gluten free diet must learn to examine label ingredients very carefully and contact the food manufacturer for questionable ingredients. It is important to understand that food manufacturers can change food ingredients without your knowledge. Celiac.com does have an extensive list of safe and forbidden foods as well as a downloadable database that it updates regularly.
What You Can Eat
If the list of gluten-containing foods seems daunting, just think about all the foods that can be eaten on a wheat and gluten free diet. Fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, eggs, beans, nuts, seeds, rice, corn, potatoes, buckwheat, quinoa, millet, amaranth, wine, milk, yogurt, and most cheeses can all be included in the diet.
There are a growing number of gluten free products available that will still allow you to enjoy your favorite foods. Breads, pastas, pancakes, and other baked goods can all be made to fit a gluten free diet. Gluten Free Pantry Favorite Sandwich Bread is just one of many gluten free breads on the market. Gluten-free cookbooks can help give you ideas for recipes and meals while gluten free mixes can save you some time and money. A couple of popular mixes include Gluten Free Pantry Cake and Cookie Mix and Gluten Free Pantry Muffin and Scone Mix.
Get your family involved by having them try new recipes and products. You may find new favorite foods and dishes that you might not have otherwise tried! If your health depends on living a wheat and gluten free lifestyle, it can take some time to get adjusted to, but regaining your health and vitality are worth all the work.