If you’re like millions of Americans, your diet is comprised of
common foods that may be affecting your health, concentration,
and moods. Foods such as bread, pasta, cakes, cookies, and
crackers-even “whole grain,” “organic,” and other seemingly
nutritious varieties of these products-may have a serious effect
on your health and emotions.

 

The culprit in these foods is a protein called gluten. Gluten
is found in all grains, but the grains that cause a problem in
people who are gluten intolerant include wheat, rye, and barley.
Research indicates that a huge segment of the population is
gluten intolerant to one degree or another, and sensitivity to
gluten can range from a simple allergy (such as a wheat allergy)
to an autoimmune condition called celiac disease (also
known as
sprue). In addition, kids with autism, Asperger’s
syndrome, and
other conditions in the PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental
Disabilities-Not Otherwise Specified) spectrum often respond
well to a gluten-free (and casein-free) diet, indicating an
intolerance to the proteins gluten and casein (this is a very
different physiological mechanism from celiac disease, or what
most people think of as gluten intolerance, but it’s an
intolerance to gluten, nonetheless). Interestingly, many people
who try the Atkins, Zone, or other low-carbohydrate diets, which
are virtually gluten-free, realize that they feel better, they
have more energy and a clearer head, and other previously
unexplained conditions just go away. It’s likely that these
people were gluten intolerant, and now they’re enjoying the
benefits of a gluten-free diet.

 

Usually, gluten intolerance affects the gut, resulting in
“leaky gut syndrome” and malabsorption. “Classic” symptoms are
thought to be gastrointestinal in nature, including diarrhea,
constipation, gas, and bloating. In reality though, only about
one-third of people who are gluten intolerant display these
gastrointestinal symptoms.

 

Most people actually have “extraintestinal” symptoms, meaning
that even though the physiological damage is occurring in the
gut, their symptoms aren’t gastrointestinal in nature. Common
extraintestinal symptoms include fatigue, headaches (including
migraines), infertility, emotional disorders (including
depression and schizophrenia), behavioral disorders (including
ADD/ADHD, and autism), and joint and bone pain. These people are
often misdiagnosed as having irritable bowel syndrome, chronic
fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, emotional disorders, and other
vague-and often untreatable-conditions. Sadly, those people are
told to go forth and live their lives in misery-some, such as
those with irritable bowel syndrome, are often told to increase
their intake of whole grains-a prescription that for the gluten
intolerant could have serious health ramifications.

 

Many people believe that gluten isn’t good for anyone. New
research shows that humans aren’t capable of fully digesting
gluten. The only animals that do fully digest it have more than
one stomach, such as cows and sheep. This means that in humans,
undigested gluten gets into the stomach, where it ferments,
creating gas and bloating. Furthermore, research shows that even
in people without celiac disease, gluten triggers the body to
release greater amounts of a substance called zonulin,
opening
the tight junctions on the intestinal lining, and resulting in
leaky gut syndrome. This means that gluten-and presumably toxins
and other substance-are allowed to leak into the blood stream,
where they can set off immune responses or result in otherwise
unexplainable symptoms.

 

Sadly, most people who have celiac disease or general gluten
sensitivity will never receive such a diagnosis. A recent study
done by the Center for Celiac Research in Maryland shows that
for every person diagnosed with celiac disease, 140 go
unrecognized. This discrepancy can be attributed to the fact
that symptoms are varied and often mimic other conditions, and
many doctors aren’t aware of new information about the how to
detect the condition and prevalence statistics. Some medical
schools are still teaching students that celiac disease is a
rare, pediatric condition with gastrointestinal symptoms. This
is outdated and downright inaccurate. Celiac disease isn’t rare-
it’s the most common genetic disease of humankind. It’s not a
pediatric condition-it’s more commonly triggered and diagnosed
after the age of 40. And symptoms aren’t always gastrointestinal
in nature-in fact, it’s the minority of people with gluten
intolerance who suffer from such symptoms.

 

The beauty of gluten intolerance and celiac disease is that we
know the key to better health: a gluten-free diet. For most
people, strict adherence to a gluten-free diet means restored
health and vitality, and noticeable improvement is often
immediate.

 

At first, the wheat-free/gluten-free diet can be daunting, to
say the least. Information on the Internet, in newsletters, and
even offered by some support groups is often inaccurate,
conflicting, and negative in nature. Arming yourself with
accurate information is key to living and loving the gluten-free
lifestyle.

 

My new book, Wheat-Free, Worry-Free: The Art of Happy, Healthy Gluten-Free Living, teaches people to do
just
that: live-and love-the wheat-free/gluten-free lifestyle. The
book thoroughly covers the medical conditions that benefit from
a gluten-free diet, and offers practical tips for living a
gluten-free lifestyle. It also discusses the psychological
implications of the lifestyle, and offers optimistic approaches
to dealing with the unique challenges faced by people on such a
diet. Additionally, a comprehensive resource directory lists the
contact information for hundreds of companies offering gluten-
free products and services.

 

If you need to eliminate gluten from your diet, remember that
while it may be confusing, frustrating, and overwhelming at
first, it’s well worth the effort . . . because for many people,
a gluten-free diet is the key to better health.