I was having breakfast with a group of friends this morning. When I declined the biscuit offered to me, one of them said, “Oh, no, now I suppose you have gluten intolerance too, the latest disease fad. I wonder the next new disease will be?” To which all of the others laughed in agreement of her observation. I assure you, if you have intolerance to gluten, it is no laughing matter.

“What is gluten", one of them asked of the others at the table? I had discovered through a "detoxification and reintroduction" diet I completed this month that eating certain grains had created digestive upset for me, so I decided to stop eating wheat, barley, and rye. After our conversation I decided to do some more research to find out exactly what gluten is, how it can affect you, and what I should do about it in my diet.

I discovered that gluten is an important source of dietary protein - actually it is a mixture of two types of proteins, prolamins and glutelins. Gluten is found in all grain based cereals, pastas, and baked goods such as breads, cakes, and cookies. It is what gives dough the ability to be elastic, to rise before it is baked, and to have chewy texture or to be light and absorbent. For most people, the proteins in gluten are a good way to get extra nutrition in their diet. Sounds good so far, right?

But then I learned that for certain people, gluten can cause a whole host of problems. Some people with gluten intolerance experience milder symptoms such as dyspepsia, (the medical term for stomach upset, gas, and bloating) weight gain, sluggishness, and inability to concentrate. For others the symptoms such as chronic fatigue, abdominal cramping, reflux, headaches, depression, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, or joint and muscle pain can be more serious. And for many others, gluten intolerance can mean a much more severe disease commonly known as “Celiac Disease.” It has other more medically descriptive terms to describe it, but for the purposes of this article, we will refer to it only as Celiac Disease.

My friend’s observation about the prevalence of this condition suddenly seemed to have a lot more merit when I read the results of a large multi-study conducted in 2003 by a number of medical doctors and other professionals. The results of the study were published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. While Celiac Disease (CD) was previously thought to be somewhat rare in the US, the study shows “The overall prevalence ofCD in 'not-at-risk' groups was 1:133.” Further, it the results suggest that Celiac Disease might be genetic. In 'at-risk' groups, the prevalence of CD was 1:22in first-degree relatives, 1:39 in second-degree relatives,and 1:56 in symptomatic patients.”

Celiac Disease is known as an autoimmune disease. As I understand it, with an autoimmune disorder, the body, in reaction to an unknown irritant, mistakenly attacks itself. In this case, gluten triggers an immune response that results in damage to the small intestine, causing incomplete digestion of food. Obviously if you are not properly digesting food you can end up with anemia and a host of other problems.

My research shows that it can take an extremely long time to get a diagnosis of Celiac Disease. On the other hand, it is not difficult to determine if non-celiac gluten intolerance may be your problem. I suggest you follow the advice of Naturopathic Doctor, Natasha Turner, who wrote The Hormone Diet. She suggests a “detox”, during which you remove certain foods (wheat, rye, and barley among many others) from your diet for a period of ten to fourteen days. Then you systematically reintroduce those foods into your diet and monitor your body’s reaction to those foods.

I guarantee you that if gluten is a problem you will know it as you begin to reintroduce rye, wheat and barley into your diet. I was feeling absolutely fabulous after my “detox”. When I began to reintroduce rye, I started having indigestion, gas, and bloating. When I reintroduced wheat, the symptoms became more severe, including abdominal cramping, diarrhea, and reflux.

So now, I am embarking on a new “gluten free” chapter of my life, which is proving to be somewhat challenging, but well worth the effort. I feel better than I have in years.

Thanks to stores like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods it is proving to be a little easier than I first thought it would be. On my last visit to Trader Joes, the clerk gave me a three page list of “gluten free foods”. It appears that not all gluten proteins are created equal. Those in rice and corn affect people differently than those in wheat, barley, and rye. I have discovered Savory Rice Thin crackers from Trader Joes which work well with humus or other dairy free dips.I am now using Rice Sticks in place of wheat-based spaghetti and really can't tell much of a difference.

At the local grocery I discovered a variety of crackers made with hazelnut meal and rice flour that are wonderful. I discovered that corn starch and potato starch can be used in the place of wheat flour to thicken sauces. I am still looking for an alternative to the heavy, crumbly, tasteless gluten free rice bread. Any suggestions?

If you have had problems with digestion, bloating, and gas, you might want to consider looking at gluten as a culprit. If you think you may have a problem with gluten, start with taking all grains out of your diet for a week or two and systematically adding them back in. Observe how feel when you reintroduce those foods, Discuss your results with your physician and take his or her advice for the next steps. There are many good resources for gluten free recipes on the internet. Good luck on your quest for better health!

Author's Bio: 

Beth Mollenkamp is a business executive with over 25 years experience in management of non-profits and public sector Human Resources with a specialty of organizational effectiveness. As a former owner of a health food store, her interests include health and fitness, nutrition, supplementation, and spirituality. She is also an internet marketer and proud member Wealth Creation Network. Wealth Creations Network provides training and support to internet businesses to help them make money online. It is not like one of those get rich quick scams, you really do learn how to make money free.