The Grain of Truth

There is growing public awareness of gluten intolerance. More and more people are discovering that gluten can be detrimental to their health and wellbeing and, with an expanding range of gluten-free food in supermarket aisles, it is becoming big business.

Many sufferers are simply sick and tired of being, well, sick and tired.

It is thought that one in 10 New Zealanders are intolerant to gluten and over the past 10 years its incidence has risen steadily due, in part, to increased gluten in our diets, a greater awareness of the condition and improved diagnostic testing.

Gluten is a protein found predominantly in wheat – but also in barley, rye and oats – which helps give bread its elasticity as dough and its structure when baked.

Unfortunately, it is this “stickiness” which means it may not be digested properly and leads, in some cases, to less efficient digestion and, in worst cases, to the body thinking it is under attack and launching an immune system response.

Gluten intolerance can have many symptoms such as reflux or heartburn, diarrhoea or constipation, bloating, cramping, depression, lack of energy or headaches. Children can also experience loss of appetite, poor weight gain, irritability and tiredness.

It is important to make the distinction between gluten intolerance and coeliac disease, which is a genetic disease where the immune system reacts abnormally to gluten causing inflammation of the intestine and preventing the absorption of vital nutrients.

People diagnosed with gluten intolerance should try to avoid all foods that contain gluten to gain immediate relief from symptoms. Look for alternative grains to wheat such as millet, buckwheat and quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) which are widely available at health food stores.

Once gluten is eliminated, focus on strengthening the digestive tract to allow food to be absorbed properly.

The amino acid glutamine is the main fuel for intestinal cells and is found predominantly in high-protein food such as meat, fish and dairy and in vegetables such as cabbage and beetroot. Cooking can destroy glutamine so taking it as a daily nutritional supplement may be worthwhile.

Another way to improve digestion is by using slippery elm powder. Derived from the inner bark of the elm tree and taken each day in a little juice or water or as a capsule, slippery elm soothes the digestive tract fighting inflammation or ulcers.

Although current treatment for gluten intolerance is based on avoidance, increased understanding has shifted the focus to strengthening digestion to ensure all foods can be enjoyed as part of a healthy and balanced diet.

So if you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, find out if gluten is the cause of your dis-ease.