Should You Go Gluten-Free? Here Are the Facts

Monday, 13 Jan 2014 07:27 AM

By Lynn Allison

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To go gluten-free or not to go gluten-free? That’s the question facing millions of Americans who are wondering if shunning the grain protein will improve their health.
 
There is no question that for the 3 million Americans who suffer from celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation in the intestinal walls, a gluten-free diet is the only way to ease their painful and debilitating symptoms.
 
And for those who have gluten sensitivity, says Tara Gidus, team dietician for the Orlando Magic basketball team, reducing or removing gluten in their diet can give them a new lease on life. They have more energy, less stomach upset, and an easier time maintaining a healthy weight.
 
However, there are varying degrees of sensitivity, which can make things complicated.
 
“Some people have severe gluten sensitivity, but others can have a reaction that is quite mild and it won’t make much of a difference to their health,” she tells Newsmax Health.
 
Going gluten-free can be trickier than it sounds. What many people don’t know is that gluten is found not only in wheat products, but also in grains such as rye, oats, and barley. It is also hidden in many processed foods.
 
Elizabeth Hasselbeck, former co-host of the TV talk show “The View,” suffered from celiac disease for many years before Dr. Peter H. Green, director of The Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, confirmed her diagnosis.
“I learned all the hidden places where gluten could be found — in sauces, condiments — even licorice!” she says.
 
For Hasselbeck, going gluten-free was a no-brainer.
 
“Going gluten-free for people with celiac disease is lifesaving,” Steven Lamm, M.D., author of No Guts, No Glory and director of men’s health at New York University Medical Center. But, he says, many of his patients with gastrointestinal problems have benefited from eliminating this pervasive protein from their diets, even if they don’t have celiac disease.
 
“Over the years, the way we’ve grown wheat and other grains has changed,” he tells Newsmax Health. “There is so much gluten in our food today that our bodies are unable to digest it.”
 
Dr. Lamm says that “there is a clear relationship between removing gluten from the diet and increasing well-being” for many people.
 
“As a doctor I have to listen to what my patients are saying,” he says. “The fact is, the gluten-free industry could not exist on the basis of celiac disease alone. Just look at the number of products on supermarket shelves. Many of my patients, including me, go out of their way to follow a gluten-free diet. Even though they don’t have celiac, they tell me it makes them feel better. I know I feel less bloated and out of sorts when I avoid gluten-rich foods.”

Dr. Lamm says that people with seemingly unrelated symptoms such as eczema, joint pain, and even mood disorders feel better when they avoid gluten.
 
“The whole body benefits,” he says.
 
Dr. Green warns that while the market for gluten-free products is exploding, it’s not the best diet for everyone.

“Unless people are very, very careful, a gluten-free diet can lack vitamins, minerals, and fiber,” he says. Many of the grains that contain gluten are rich in important vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins and iron. Studies show that gluten-containing whole-grain foods help lower the risk of heart disease, Type-2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer.
 
And gluten-free products tend to be more expensive than conventional foods — often three and four times the price.
 
“There’s no doubt that there’s big business right now in the marketing of gluten-free products,” says Dr. Lamm. “My advice is if you are having unusual and chronic symptoms of gastrointestinal distress, joint pain, or lethargy, try a gluten-free diet for three weeks and see if you notice a difference. That will help you make a decision."

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