Ditch the Gluten, Improve Your Health the Harvard way
Padma Shri Awardee
Vice President CMAAO
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in many grains, including wheat, barley and rye. It is common in foods such as bread, pasta, pizza and cereal. Gluten provides no essential nutrients. People with celiac disease have an immune reaction that is triggered by eating gluten. They develop inflammation and damage in their intestinal tracts and other parts of the body when they eat foods containing gluten. Current estimates suggest that up to 1% of the population has this condition. A gluten-free diet is necessary to eliminate the inflammation, as well as the symptoms.
According to a survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, 63% of Americans believe that a gluten-free diet could improve their mental or physical health. And up to a third of Americans are cutting back on it in the hope that it will improve their health or prevent disease.
Who should avoid gluten?
There is at least some truth to the idea that gluten can be harmful. As mentioned, people with celiac disease avoid sickness and maintain much better health if they follow a gluten-free diet. For them, a gluten-free diet is nothing short of essential.
And then there are people described as "gluten-sensitive." Their tests for celiac disease are negative (normal) and yet they get symptoms (including bloating, diarrhea or crampy abdominal pain) whenever they eat foods that contain gluten. One cause is wheat allergy, a disorder that can be diagnosed by skin testing. But for many, the diagnosis remains uncertain. Some have begun calling this "non-celiac gluten hypersensitivity," a poorly defined condition about which we have much to learn.
Avoiding gluten makes sense for people with celiac disease, wheat allergy or those who feel unwell when they consume gluten.
What should a gluten-conscious person do?
If you feel well and have no digestive symptoms, enjoy your good health! And stop worrying so much about gluten.
But if you have symptoms that might be related to gluten, or if you have significant and unexplained symptoms, talk to your doctor. Symptoms of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity include:
Weight loss and poor appetite
Bloating or feeling full
An itchy rash
Growth delay (in children)
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