How to Live With a Gluten Sensitivity

You've probably seen the proliferation of gluten-free products at your local grocery store and wondered if you should be eating these foods.

Gluten is a protein found in certain grains, including wheat, rye, and barley. Approximately one in 20 Americans is sensitive to gluten. If you're among this group, you may experience cramping, bloating, or diarrhea when you eat foods containing gluten.

At the other end of the spectrum, about one percent of the U.S. population has celiac disease (also called celiac spru). Celiac disease is an abnormal immune reaction to gluten. When celiac sufferers eat foods containing gluten, it damages the villi that line the walls of the small intestines. Villi are tiny finger-like projections that absorb nutrients from our digested food. Left untreated, celiac disease can lead to malnutrition, osteoporosis, and other serious problems.

Gluten sensitivity or intolerance is genetic and often first appears in children as digestive problems and irritability. Adults who have a gluten intolerance may experience anemia, fatigue, bone or joint pain, arthritis, depression or anxiety, tingling, seizures, canker sores in the mouth, or dermatitis. Some patients may not have any symptoms, prolonging the start of treatment.

Experts have linked several factors to gluten intolerance, including the duration you were breastfed, the age you started eating foods containing gluten,  and the amount of foods you eat that contain gluten.

People who have celiac disease typically suffer from other immune problems, such as diabetes or arthritis. They are also likely to have microbial infections and imbalances in the composition of the microorganisms in their gut, although physicians aren't sure if this is a cause or an effect of celiac disease.

The only treatment for celiac disease is to follow a gluten-free diet. Unfortunately, gluten hides in many processed foods, making it difficult to eliminate it completely. A nutritionist or dietitian who understands celiac disease can help you evaluate food and develop a safe and healthy eating plan. Grains and other foods based on potatoes, rice, soy, amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, bean flour, and ready-made gluten-free foods, offer celiac patients a wide range of satisfying alternatives.

If you have celiac disease, you must eat a gluten-free diet for the rest of your life. Although eliminating foods containing gluten can seem daunting at first, once you purge them from your diet, your symptoms will quickly begin to subside and you'll notice an improvement within days. Eventually your intestines will heal and absorb critical nutrients again.




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