Feeling bloated after eating that bagel? Read it!

Are you one of the millions of people who love bagels for breakfast or bread for dinner? Let’s face it, bread is one of the building blocks of the food chain that has sustained hungry eaters for centuries.

So why is there so much talk about the harmful effects of gluten consumption? Bread is supposed to be good for you, right? This may be true for most people, but not for others who experience symptoms such as bloating and diarrhea. Some of my patients even complain of fatigue, weight loss, and possibly muscle and joint pain. When I dig deeper into their eating habits to determine the cause of their problem, nine times out of ten I find their symptoms related to gluten sensitivity.

What is gluten sensitivity and how do you know if you have it? If you are asking yourself this question, you are not alone. Let me explain.

“Gluten” is a family of proteins found in wheat along with oats, rye and barley. Gluten sensitivity is caused by an immune reaction to gluten. A simple blood test can determine if you have gluten-specific antibodies. A hereditary form of gluten sensitivity is called celiac disease and may affect 1 in 133 people. Celiac disease is often diagnosed by a biopsy of the small intestine which may reveal physical damage. Other forms of gluten sensitivity or allergy may develop as people age.

What happens if you continue to eat gluten?

Some of the symptoms of gluten sensitivity are felt in the digestive tract. Others are more generalized. The body releases chemicals during many immune responses that can cause vague symptoms of joint pain, fatigue, and muscle aches.

If the gluten-sensitive person continues to eat foods containing gluten, the body will continue to make antibodies against gluten. This immune reaction causes physical damage to the lining of the small intestine and makes it difficult for the body to absorb nutrients. This leads to diarrhea and weight loss. If left unchecked, the damage can possibly be life threatening. Fortunately, the small intestine has the ability to regenerate healthy cells and it will recover over time if gluten is removed from the diet.

What if you are gluten sensitive?

Below are some of the things you can do if you suspect you might have some of the symptoms described above:

• Consult your doctor and request a blood test to determine if you are sensitive to gluten.

• Look for foods made with oats, quinoa, rice, corn, millet and amaranth.

• Prepared foods, such as frozen macaroni and cheese, will indicate the gluten content on the package.

• A website of recipes, products and local gluten-free support groups is available online.

• Ask your market to offer tours highlighting gluten-free items on the shelves.

• Ask your local market to expand gluten-free options.

• Restaurants and cruise ships often offer gluten-free options for pizzas, pastas and breads.

• As gluten sensitivity is becoming more widely known, you may find that if you ask for gluten-free foods when dining out, others in your party will ask for them as well.

• If temptation is a problem, ask for baskets of crackers and bread to be taken away after other guests have helped themselves.

Keep your digestive tract healthy!

Once you’ve cleared the gluten and your digestive tract heals, there are ways to keep it in good working order. Eat a variety of healthy fruits and vegetables. At night, drink a glass of water with a spoonful of psyllium husk mixed in. This adds fiber and helps remove unwanted matter from the body. Yogurt can help restore the balance of gut bacteria, which is important for the digestion of food.

The damage caused by gluten sensitivity can interfere with the body’s ability to process food. Your digestive system may need help getting healthy. Here are some natural ways to aid healing.

• Take a multivitamin, as a damaged intestine absorbs fewer nutrients from food

• L-glutamine is useful for healing the lining of the small intestine

• A probiotic supplement can help restore good bacteria in the gut

• Digestive enzymes can help your system digest food while the natural enzyme balance is restored

• Fiber, such as psyllium and flax, can help the intestines work efficiently

If you’ve had gluten sensitivity for months or years, be patient. Give your body time to heal once you remove gluten from your diet. Skip the bakery counter and eat healthy, gluten-free foods instead. A gluten-free diet can lead you to delicious food that’s better for your overall health!

Mark Rosenberg, MD

Institute for Healthy Aging

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