Like ever-shifting trends in fashion and popular music, the American public is no stranger to new fad diets. Over the past several decades, substances such as fat, red meat and carbohydrates have been forbidden or strictly limited by certain diets, while being embraced by others. It can be quite a challenge to keep track of all of these diet fads, and
even more of a struggle to recall what each diet deems permissible. In the last several years, you’ve probably heard a good deal about “gluten-free” diets and their impact on the digestive system. Like other health-related decisions, it is highly advisable to research gluten before deciding whether to jettison it from your diet.
The Downside of Gluten
Gluten plays an essential role in allowing baked goods to form properly. Without the use of gluten, many types of breads, bagels, rolls, pastries and similar foods wouldn’t be able to rise while baking, and could not morph into their familiar shapes. Even snack foods like crackers rely on gluten to attain their desired appearance. In addition, your
favorite offerings at the local bakery owe their doughy texture to gluten.
Unfortunately, all those traits that make gluten such a useful ingredient can come at a price, since some adults and children experience gluten-related digestive problems. The reasons behind these adverse reactions, along with their accompanying symptoms, can depend on the patient’s personal medical history and health.
People with celiac disease are usually the most vulnerable group to gluten. In fact, celiac patients are unable to consume gluten in any amount whatsoever. A genetic condition, celiac disease causes the body’s immune system to grossly overreact to the presence of gluten. With the malfunctioning immune system viewing gluten as a hostile invader, the body quickly turns on its own small intestine, attacking the tissues of this crucial organ. In turn, this causes celiac sufferers to experience everything from digestive problems to muscle pains to seizures. Though there is no cure
for this disease, celiac patients can lead relatively normal lives provided they steer clear of gluten.
As damaging as celiac disease is the body, it is not especially common, affecting only 1 in 133 Americans. However, this shouldn’t necessarily be taken to mean that only 1 in 133 Americans respond poorly to gluten. Aside from those with celiac disease, studies have found that a sizable number of people seem to be unable to process gluten without ill effect.
According to University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research, an estimated 6 percent of Americans may have some level of gluten sensitivity. Though this might sound like an inconsequentially small figure, it translates into nearly 18 million people.
Another digestive condition that might be linked to gluten intolerance is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is a particularly frustrating opponent, as its exact causes are unknown and it can trigger numerous symptoms:
• Pain the abdominal area
• A bloated feeling
• Mucus in stool
Gluten and Your Health
Based on the evidence provided by the Mayo Clinic and the University of Maryland’s Center for Celiac Research, it would appear that some Americans could benefit from dropping gluten from their diet.
Of course, additional research will be needed to better outline the potential risks of gluten. In the meantime, those concerned about the effects of this nutrient should seek the input of qualified medical professionals.