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Growing Interest in The Gluten-Free Diet

So what is the sudden interest in Gluten-free foods all about? Shelves and displays full of Gluten-free products have been popping up in supermarkets everywhere. To begin with, what is Celiac Disease, and what is gluten?  Gluten sensitivity (or actual Celiac Disease) is a condition that affects people who eat gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley, and rice).  Their bodies mount an immune response to it which affects the lining of their small intestine.

The main symptom of celiac disease is diarrhea or multiple loose bowel movements a day. Stomach pain, bloating, gas, and weight loss may also occur. Although the primary problem in those with Celiac Disease is intolerance to gluten, there are a variety of nutritional deficiencies associated with celiac disease, primarily caused by the damaged small intestine not being able to properly absorb enough of the nutrients the human body needs. People recently diagnosed with celiac disease are commonly deficient in fiber, iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, folate, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B12, and vitamin D, as well as in calories and protein.

A 2002 study suggested that the delay in puberty in children with celiac disease is most likely due to low amounts of B vitamins, iron, and folate. After treatment with a strict gluten-free diet, most patients’ small intestines recover.  They are able to properly absorb nutrients again, and don’t necessarily require any supplementation. For certain patients, nutrient supplements may be helpful. Issues with the gluten-free diet itself may also add to this problem of nutritional deficiency. Though the gluten-free market has grown immensely over recent years and is continuing to expand, many gluten-free products are not enriched and have lower amounts of folate, iron, thiamin, niacin, fiber, and riboflavin. Gluten-free products may also be unbalanced in other ways. Patients on strict gluten-free diets were shown to have a higher amount of calories from fat and less from carbohydrates. With these concerns and with other possible food allergies or sensitivities, following a strict gluten-free diet while maintaining proper nutrition can be extremely challenging.

Vitamin and mineral therapy can be used in addition to the standard gluten-free diet to hasten a patient’s recovery from nutritional deficiency. However, certain inactive ingredients in medications can contain gluten, so extra care must be taken to avoid any gluten exposure. The gluten-free diet is very complex with research still being done on how many types of grains and cereals are tolerated by those with celiac disease.  The FDA has only recently standardized the meaning of a “gluten-free” label, so it is important for anyone suffering from a gluten-related disorder to talk to a registered dietician about their diet as well as their physician.

For more information, check out the following link. http://celiac.org/   Special thanks to Saul Geller, one of my relatives, who is a medical writer for them and helped me with the information in this blog.

About Jeff Pearl, MD

Dr. Jeff is a trained general, pediatric cardiac, and transplant surgeon. Nutrition has always been an important concern for surgeons in regards to patients healing from surgery. He has had a longstanding interest in health, nutrition and supplements, and been an advocate of the use of nutrition and supplements in the hospital setting to aid in his patient’s recovery. He has a history of basic science and clinical research and a keen ability to interpret studies and statistics to determine their true significance. He is the father and step-father to several teenage athletes and knows firsthand the challenges they face in balancing their time, eating habits and use of supplements. He is adamant about trying to educate our youth about better nutrition. Dr. Jeff recognizes the challenges that healthcare faces and the need for people to take charge of their own health and disease prevention. He loves being outside and is one of those crazy few seen hiking or biking in the middle of the day in summer.

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