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Why do some people think of wheat, the staff of life, as the grain of pain? To answer that question, we need to understand gluten. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, and it is everywhere. Gluten is not only in your bread; it is in your soy sauce, broth, vitamins, and even your pharmaceuticals. The GRAIN of PAIN Wheat is a staple of the global economy. More than 600 million tons of wheat was harvested worldwide in 2007. Wheat futures are as important in the world of stocks and bonds as they are on By, Jacqueline Townsend Konstanturos, MS the dining room tables across the U.S. and Europe. Americans Co-Author Gluten Nation and CEO of Restorative Remedies consume more wheat than any other single food, and wheat accounts for 20 percent of the calories of the world’s population. But there is a dark side to wheat. For the many millions who are gluten intolerant, consumption of wheat may lead to many serious health problems. And this is not a small number. It is estimated that over 20 percent of the population is gluten sensitive. What does it mean to be gluten intolerant? Humans lack the necessary enzymes to break down the gluten proteins into amino acids, the building blocks of protein. And we don’t have the genetic information necessary to build gluten-digesting enzymes. Center for Integrative Health eZine For the lucky ones, these undigested gluten protein fragments just pass through without causing any problems, but for those who are gluten intolerant, they can cause serious health issues. What happens when we digest gluten-containing bread or wheat products? We can partially digest gluten, breaking it down into large fragments, but that’s all. In many people, these large gluten fragments provoke an immune reaction, an inﬂammatory response. The focus of the inﬂammation is the lining of the In many people, these large gluten gastrointestinal tract, speciﬁcally the lining of the small intestine. fragments provoke an immune reaction, Many serious problems can develop if the intestinal inﬂammation becomes extensive, even though the inﬂammatory changes of an inﬂammatory response. The focus most people are low-grade and do not cause symptoms, the of the inﬂammation is the lining of the inﬂammation in those who are sensitive escalates. gastrointestinal tract, speciﬁcally the lining of the small intestine. As the inﬂammation of the small intestine worsens, the person is less able to absorb nutrients, including vitamins and minerals – basically they are being robbed of the nutrients in their food. So even though they may have been eating a healthy diet, they are not able to beneﬁt from the nutrients they need – they suffer what is known as malabsorption syndrome. Gluten intolerance is also associated with a variety of serious autoimmune disorders, such as celiac disease, which may be linked, in susceptible individuals, to the immune reaction Center for Integrative Health eZine Americans consume more wheat than any other single food... provoked by gluten. A person with an autoimmune disease makes In many cases, persons with gluten intolerance do not have antibodies that destroy his or her own tissues. These antibodies gastrointestinal-related symptoms. Instead they have symptoms directed against the “self” are called autoantibodies. Whatever of the related diseases, such as attention deﬁcit disorder or these autoantibodies attack can lead to heath problems – not rheumatoid arthritis. For this reason it can be difﬁcult for a just in the gut. These autoantibodies can attack the kidneys, joints, physician to correctly identify the underlying cause of a person’s muscles, thyroid, and even your brain. serious and ongoing complaints. At present, most affected individuals go undiagnosed. Gluten intolerance may also play a role in autism, attention deﬁcit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and schizophrenia, although these Unfortunately this condition is not well understood and many of links are not yet fully understood. Gluten intolerance may also these people bounce from doctor to doctor with deteriorating be responsible for many unexplained complaints such as chronic health. Of course, if the real cause isn’t corrected, symptoms will fatigue, weakness, frequent colds and infections, chronic low-grade continue and may worsen. And the side effects of inappropriate diarrhea or constipation, frequent headaches, and mood disorders medication can create additional problems. including apathy and lethargy often described as a ‘brain fog.’ Center for Integrative Health eZine Quality of life is a day-to-day concern for those affected by gluten intolerance. Some people suffer from debilitating diarrhea. Others have bloating and abdominal pain. The fatigue, weakness, muscle aches, and joint pains often associated with gluten intolerance may be profound. Such a person may dread getting up in the morning because they know the day will bring prolonged periods of discomfort, pain, and stress. Heightened awareness of gluten intolerance and celiac disease is the key to effective diagnosis. Generally, primary care physicians – as well as specialists in all ﬁelds – see what they look for and recognize what they know. Habits of thought are useful, but also There is a dark side to wheat. For the restrict the ability to create new associations and correctly identify many millions who are gluten intolerant, a situation that doesn’t ﬁt into previously established patterns. consumption of wheat may lead to many Correctly identifying gluten intolerance and or celiac disease as the serious health problems. cause of various serious rheumatic, immunologic, and endocrine diseases will have wide-ranging beneﬁts for millions of people. The good news is that awareness of gluten intolerance—and its close association with a wide variety of serious conditions— is developing critical mass. There are dozens of well-written websites focusing on gluten intolerance and many more offering lifestyle tips and gluten-free recipes. A number of good books on gluten intolerance have been published recently. Articles on gluten intolerance and a gluten-free lifestyle are appearing regularly in newspapers and healthy living magazines. The gluten-free revolution is happening now.
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