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How to Deal With Gluten Intolerance

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Gluten Sensitivity and Related Health Issues

That Crazy Little Thing Called Gluten

Members of the bread family, which contain gluten. Photo Courtesy Dr. Mark HymanAmong food-related buzz words like low-fat and vegetarian, a new phrase everywhere: gluten-free. Forget peanut allergies which cause an obvious and immediate reaction. The gluten intolerance is a hidden evil that its sufferers are only slowly starting to discover.

While people occasionally undergo anaphylactic shock after consuming gluten, says LPN Kim Hart, the most common symptoms of a gluten allergy include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea, constipation and bloating, though everyone reacts in different ways.

But what is gluten, exactly? Gluten is a protein in wheat, rye and barley, which shows up in bread and pasta, but may also hide in many other foods, such as cold cuts, salad dressings, beer, and even licorice, according to webmd.com.

As people have become more aware of the effects of gluten in food, more and more are being diagnosed with an intolerance. Rich Frank, owner of Four Seasons Natural Foods in Saratoga Springs, NY, says seven to eight percent of the population is now believed to have a sensitivity to gluten.

However, gluten sensitivity is not to be confused with more serious disorders such as Celiac disease, Frank says. “While the sensitivity is much less pronounced and generally creates symptoms only immediately after someone eats, people with Celiac disease cannot process any kind of gluten, and consumption of it wreaks havoc in the digestive track and compromises someone’s total health.“

Clinical Nutritionist Shari Black performs nutrition response testing, which is a form of muscle testing to see where the weak areas are on the body. She then recommends nutritional supplements to assist the body in its overall repair, and works on finding dietary changes for her clients. She has seen gluten intolerances become more common in recent years.

She feels that some of the main contributory factors to this increase are changes in the quality of our foods and the refining and loss of valuable nutrients through this process.

Frank agrees. “Today’s wheat is harvested in ways that are harder for us to digest. Mass-produced, commercial wheat is so low quality that it’s affecting us all,” he says. He believes processed foods such as white flour are hard on the body even for those without a gluten sensitivity.

Black also associates an aging population, genetic risks associated with westernization, excesses in the diet, sensitizing chemicals (NSAID) and allergy-enhancing chemical treatment of foods as reasons for the swell in gluten allergies.

Hart, who has been a nurse for 14 years, says she has seen a notable increase in the past three years of patients who have gluten allergies. “I think more research has gone on to find out that people are allergic to certain things. There’s more internet use and people have made themselves aware of the gluten allergy,” she says.

Frank says he saw a big increase in demand for gluten-free products about a decade ago and in turn created a section in his shop. In the past five years, he has seen every day people reducing gluten intake in order to follow a healthier lifestyle. He says many products, which never had gluten in the first place, have made the move toward labeling themselves as gluten-free through such efforts as making a completely gluten-free manufacturing facility.

The consensus on the best way to treat a gluten intolerance is to remove it from one’s diet.

“A lot of people feel better when they give up gluten,” Frank says, “Because at the same time, they’re giving up other things like wheat and processed or junk foods.”

Black works with her patients to identify the hidden sources of gluten in their diets and find alternative options.

Frank says people are usually fine with incidental gluten intake, like soy sauce, but must be more diligent in eliminating bigger sources.

There is no data yet, which shows gluten intolerance to be more common in men or women. Additionally, onset can develop at any age or point in life, Black says.

The vast array of gluten-free products, such as quinoa and spelt, eases treatment of the allergy. However, Frank sees a bigger picture. “To me, gluten is one piece of a puzzle of diet, reduction and better choices overall.”

Jaime Thomas is a Contributor to The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

Short URL: http://thefreegeorge.com/thefreegeorge/?p=17749

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