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gluten intolerance

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Breaking Bread

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This past Christmas Eve, I listened to the soft sounds of Ave Maria and Silent Night waft through candlelit pews. My father has sung in a church choir ever since I was a child, like his father before him, so from a young age I was instilled with an appreciation for robed singers harmonizing centuries-old Latin hymns. I’m also a sucker for Christmas carols. 😉

As the communion bread was passed around among the pews, I thought about people who could not eat the bread—not because they weren’t baptized, but because they were allergic or intolerant.

Growing up, our family belonged to a small stone Episcopalian church on a grassy hill that could have been pulled out of the Scottish Highlands or a child’s storybook. At one point, we had a female priest, which was something of a rarity back then. Sermons routinely invoked global current affairs and the common values shared across religions, and everyone, regardless of creed, was welcome. We were a progressive church. The communion bread was also baked in the church kitchen and tasted heavenly. I’d walk up to the altar, cup my hands, and receive a hunk of doughy bread, which I’d dip into a chalice of wine. I can’t remember ever worrying about my food allergies during Sunday communion growing up. Plain bread as a kid was always considered safe. That has since changed. 

Today, 1 in 13 kids has a food allergy, and millions more have a gluten intolerance. We live in a different world from a couple decades back. The communion bread I ate growing up definitely contained wheat, although I never knew anyone that had a problem with gluten back then. These days, however, it seems as though at least one person at every dinner party is gluten-free. To accommodate, many churches now offer gluten-free bread with communion.

The rise of gluten-free products has been a double-edged sword for the nut-allergic like me: on the one hand, it has helped increase awareness and accommodations for those with food allergies and intolerances; on the other hand, nut substitutes (like almond flour) for wheat have become increasingly common. 

Years ago, I admittedly thought the spike in gluten-free products was more fad than the result of a growing severe medical condition. That all changed when I spoke to a woman at a food allergy conference years back who relayed the harrowing experience of her young son and how their family discovered his gluten intolerance. On Sundays, her son would develop debilitating migraines that would keep him bed ridden for days. As she described her experience, and his symptoms, I was horrified. Her family connected the dots back to the communion bread. “Gluten did that to your son!?” I thought. Unfortunately, their church wasn’t able to accommodate his gluten intolerance, and her family was forced to join another parish. 

At the Scottish storybook church, if you declined the bread or wine, you could fold your arms across your chest and receive a blessing from the priest. At the church I attended this Christmas Eve, communion bread was passed between parishioners in pews on trays, and wine (which turned out to be grape juice), was served in small plastic cups. Surprisingly, an individual blessing did not appear to be an alternative option. You’d think a simple blessing like this would be an option at all churches, allowing everyone to partake in communion and ensuring that the food allergic and intolerant aren’t left out.

Religion, like food, should bring people together. Breaking bread has long been a symbol of community and peace. That community piece is lost, however, if everyone isn’t afforded a seat at the table. 

- Abi & the Allergy Amulet Team

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Should I Go Gluten-Free? Break it Down for Me

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Google “gluten free” and you get roughly 150,000,000 results.

Clearly, the topic of gluten is trending.  You probably know at least one person that has cut gluten from their diet.  This begs the question: Is eating gluten-free a fad?  Will it pass by us eventually à la fat-free diets?  And what about the choice of whether or not you should go gluten-free?  Friends, that question is one we hear a lot.  And we want to help you find the answer.

Without having a severe gluten intolerance or celiac disease, it can be tough to know if it’s worth it, right?  How do you know if you have a gluten intolerance, celiac disease, or a sensitivity?  Well, while there is a test that can identify whether or not you have celiac disease, the only surefire way to know if you have a sensitivity is by eliminating gluten from your diet and seeing how your body responds after gradually reintroducing it thereafter.

To start, it’s important to understand the different types of gluten sensitivities.  These varying sensitivities can have different OR similar symptoms—and it’s often much more than just a bad stomachache.  Here’s a deeper look at the different sensitivities so you can better identify how gluten may be impacting you:

1. Gluten is a BIG problem for you (e.g., celiac disease)

Celiac disease is on the rise.  The condition, also called celiac sprue, coeliac, and gluten-sensitive enteropathy, once considered rare now affects more people than ever: 1 in 100.  Many physicians believe it is a grossly undiagnosed disease, and some doctors now regularly screen anyone with severe digestive complaints for the troubling illness.  The reality is that celiac is more than an uncomfortable condition—it can be life threatening, and is characterized by autoimmune antibodies.  It’s important to understand that celiac CANNOT cause anaphylaxis—a severe and potentially life-threatening allergic reaction—unlike a wheat allergy, for example.  Most people will not die from the immediate symptoms of celiac disease. However, left untreated, it can lead to several other conditions, some of which can be fatal.

●      Common symptoms: Stomach pain, chronic diarrhea, bloating, fatigue, floating or foul smelling stool, depression, fatigue, infertility, and weight loss.

●      Associated symptoms & conditions: Itchy rash, peripheral neuropathy, ataxia, osteoporosis, behavioral changes, irregular menstrual cycle, infertility, Addison’s disease, fibromyalgia, autism, anxiety/depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, severe headaches/migraines, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Graves disease, type 1 diabetes, pancreatic disorders, and multiple sclerosis.

●      Diagnosis: To diagnose celiac disease, your doctor will administer a blood test called a Tissue Transglutaminase Antibodies (tTG-IgA), and you must have gluten in your system at the time of the test—if you’re on a gluten-free diet the test may produce false negative results.  This test is 98% accurate in patients with celiac disease.

2. You don’t have celiac disease, but something is way off (e.g., gluten intolerance/sensitivity)

Many people experience symptoms like those of celiac disease, despite negative tTG-IgA test results and intestinal biopsies revealing no tissue damage. It is unclear what the underlying cause is for a gluten intolerance or sensitivity, and is often diagnosed based on a patient’s response to a gluten-free diet.

●      Common symptoms: Often the same as celiac, and primarily digestive distress.

●      Dietary Recommendations: Having a severe gluten intolerance is becoming increasingly common, and it can be very frustrating because it’s difficult to obtain a clear diagnosis.  Gluten sensitivity can manifest in the same way as celiac disease, but with greater variability in severity and duration.  Your best bet may be to try an elimination diet, which you can find in many of our programs!  We recommend eliminating for two months for best results.  Determining if you’re gluten sensitive is just as important as determining if you have celiac disease, because over time, the integrity of your gut health can be compromised.  Gastrointestinal health is the cornerstone of optimal health—it plays a major role in the balance of hormones, mood, cognitive function, and other aspects of overall health and well-being.

3.  Gluten doesn’t make you feel too sexy

For those that don’t have celiac disease or a diagnosed intolerance, you may just not feel so hot after you eat gluten-containing foods.  Low energy, less endurance, and overall “slowness” are common words used to describe these feelings.  By removing gluten from your diet, many in this category see a positive change in their appearance, and many professional athletes have gone gluten-free to improve athletic performance!

●      Common symptoms: Digestive distress, fatigue, energy loss, and overall blah.

●      Dietary Recommendations: We recommend eliminating gluten from your diet for two months.  Why?  Gluten is pesky and can linger in the blood stream for a long time.  Add it back into your diet gradually over time and see you how feel.

4.  Gluten ain’t no thang

You feel absolutely fine with gluten.  No cramping or chronic side effects.  Perhaps you have headaches, digestive issues, or some joint pain.  You’ve tried going gluten-free for two months and noticed zero difference.  You’re realizing maybe something else is to blame.

Our feelings?  Being gluten-free is not a fad.  We have worked with too many people who notice legitimate improvements by removing it from their diet.  With that said, it’s important to consider a few things—when you cut out gluten, you are often cutting out a lot of unhealthy food too.  You will not be able to eat most fast food, many packaged items, and other foods that simply aren’t healthy.  So you have to ask yourself, was it the gluten or was it the crummy food?  One way to determine the difference is to eat healthy sources of gluten as a trial: wheat berries, farro, and couscous are just a handful of naturally gluten-filled whole grains.  On the flip side, going gluten-free and replacing those packaged foods with gluten-free versions may not necessarily improve your health, as they’re often laden with added sugars and fats to improve flavor.  The ticket is to try removing it from your diet and trying a healthy whole foods diet (with gluten grains) to see if gluten is the cause!

SO, what do you think? 

We hope this information helps guide you in making the decision of whether to go gluten-free.  Ultimately, the best way to find out whether a gluten-free diet is right for you is to remove it from your diet, then gauge how your body responds upon reintroduction.  We help people explore this in our 20-day nutrition program: Prescribe 20.  Because going at these things alone is never easy, and rarely successful, we believe that community is the key to success.  With our programs, we’re with you every step of the way, offering recipes, educational materials, and professional guidance.  With this support system in place, the process of discovering how to feed YOUR body isn’t so bad. Not one bit.

 Megan Morris is a certified nutritionist, Co-Founder & CEO of Prescribe Nutrition, and Founder of The Root of Health: an online digestive health resource. 

 

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