Stomach cramps? Gas? Tired? It may be many things. Milk allergy or lactose-intolerance is a common culprit. But it also could be a problem digesting gluten, a type of protein found in breads, pastas and most cereals. If your body cannot absorb gluten, your intestines become inflamed and damaged when you eat these foods.
Gluten is the protein-building material that makes bread dough stretchy and strong. Wheat, rye and barley products contain gluten. It also makes some people sick.
The spectrum of your body’s inability to deal with gluten spans celiac disease, gluten-intolerance and gluten-sensitivity. These are not the same as wheat allergies. If you are allergic to wheat, eliminating gluten, one type of wheat protein, won’t be enough. Celiac disease, an inherited immune reaction to gluten, is the extreme of gluten-intolerance, typically with stronger symptoms. Gluten-intolerance or sensitivity may be mild and develop slowly. Symptoms vary widely, making diagnosis challenging. On average, a person has symptoms for four years before the problem is diagnosed. Symptoms can include weight loss or gain, bloating, gas, diarrhea or constipation, fatty stools that float, aching joints, eczema and exhaustion as well as irritability. But these can be common symptoms of many other problems. And irritability? All too common (especially in some people.)
How do you know if you are gluten-sensitive? Screening blood tests and an intestinal biopsy can show if you have inherited celiac disease, but they do not test for gluten-sensitivity or intolerance. The easiest way to figure out if gluten-free eating would help you is to try it for a few weeks. If it works and your symptoms resolve, you may have found a solution. If you start eating gluten and your symptoms return, you have more evidence of how gluten can affect you.
You need to try it for a few weeks and give yourself time to figure out how to do it. If it does not work, decide if you really tried gluten free, or if you just did less gluten. If you really eliminated gluten but still have symptoms, continue to figure out what is causing your problem. At least you may have eliminated one possible cause.
You can create your own gluten-free diet by eliminating products made with wheat, rye, barley and malt. Sticking to fruit, vegetables and lean proteins such as fish, chicken and tofu can be pretty healthy. But there is also a wide range of gluten-free products. Publix, Whole Foods and Chamberlin’s offer some of them.
A few local spots advertise gluten-free pizza. UrbanSpoon.com lists local restaurants that identify gluten-free options on the menu. Our area also sports some gluten-free nutrition counselors to help you too. But as always, be wary of practitioners recommending products they sell to you.
The Central Florida Chapter of the Celiac Disease Foundation (http://www.cdfcentralflorida.org), celiac.org and gluten.net offer several online tools to help you plan a gluten-free diet. And bookstores have an array of gluten-free cookbooks.
Maitland resident Nancy Rudner Lugo is a nurse practitioner and president of Health Action, offering workplace health consulting and nurse coaching. Visit www.healthaction.biz