February 15, 2013

Gluten Allergies: Epidemic or a Fad?

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If you've walk the isles at your local health food store lately, you'll notice that gluten-free is the new thing.
From Chelsea Clinton's gluten-free wedding cake to gluten-free soy sauce at sushi restaurants, the food industry reflects the growing cultural obsession with cutting gluten out of a daily diet. There are skeptics, though. Why, all of the sudden are such a high number of people finding out they're gluten intolerant? Is it a bandwagon effect or does a large part of the American population have gluten intolerance and why? Here are some gluten-free FAQs for you to take in.

What is the difference between celiac disease and gluten intolerance?
The terms 'wheat allergy,' 'gluten intolerance,' and 'celiac disease' are often used synonymously, according to nutritionists, but there is a big difference among these dietary issues. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which your immune system is attacking your good tissue including villi, small hair-like particles that help the body to absorb nutrients including vitamins and minerals. The result of this loss includes anemia and osteoporosis and just plain feeling sick. Those with celiac disease do avoid gluten in order to avoid any stress on the intestines which exacerbates the destruction of villi.

Wheat allergy causes a person to experience allergic reactions in the mouth, lungs, skin and digestive tract. Someone with a wheat allergy could wheeze, develop a rash, swell, or experience diarrhea.
Gluten sensitivity is not going to cause any rashes or wheezing. It's all going to be felt in the gut. Gas, abdominal pain, swollen stomach and diarrhea indicate gluten sensitivity. Gluten allergies don't cause permanent damage as in the case of Celiac disease where the stomach issues indicate a systemic problem caused by compromised villi.

Why are so many people experiencing gluten sensitivities now?
There are few possible answers to this question. One of the most believed answers is that people are misdiagnosing themselves and looking for an answer to general malaise. According to Portland dietician Girard Eberle, the number of actual proven gluten allergy cases hasn't risen that much in the last decade, though the number of 'self-diagnosed' cases is skyrocketing as is evidenced by the upsurge of gluten-free offerings in the grocery aisles. There's a lot of media hype playing to America's obsession with dieting and fears about food. There is, however, a rise in number of those diagnosed with celiac disease, and this could also contribute to the number of people who are getting confused about which disease, allergy or sensitivity they have.

Even if someone isn't gluten intolerant, are there benefits to quitting gluten?
Grocery stories are making it quite possible to live a gluten-free life without giving up on breads or baked goods or the myriad other food products that have gluten in them. And many gluten-free advocates swear they've lost weight and felt healthier than ever before by cutting out gluten. But the truth is, they might be mistaking the culprit of their formerly bad health. Cutting out gluten often means cutting out processed, starchy foods, and foods containing chemicals and preservatives. Cutting down on these types of food and lowering your carb intake is bound to make anyone feel good. Gluten may just be an innocent bystander to those ingredients. Cutting out gluten could have negative implications for a person's health especially if they've misdiagnosed themselves with a gluten allergy. Cutting out gluten could have you cutting out the wrong foods and missing out on the vitamins and minerals you need.

Before you jump on the gluten-free bandwagon, make sure that you've done your research and contacted a medical professional. If you have celiac disease, you need to be considering a much wider diet change beyond simply taking out gluten from your diet. Tests have been developed to test your gluten tolerance, so there's no reason to diagnose yourself.

Author Trent Call writes for health blogs. Interested in a career that combines technology and healthcare? You may want to consider health informatics programs like those offered at the University of Chicago-Illinois and Boston University.


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