March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and increased awareness definitely is needed: colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.
But there's some good news for people with celiac disease: contrary to what you might think, celiac does not appear to raise your risk for colorectal cancer. In fact, some studies indicate it may even protect you (some, at least) from this form of cancer.
Learn more in my article: Celiac Disease and Colon Cancer
However, don't think for a minute you're 100% protected -- people with celiac can and do get colon and rectal cancer. Also, we have no way of knowing whether people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity have a higher or lower risk for colon cancer -- the studies just haven't been done.
For more about colorectal cancer -- including the risk factors, signs, and ways to reduce your risk -- check out the excellent information from Julie Wilkinson, About.com's expert on colon cancer: Colon Cancer.
Photo © Getty Images/Jose Luiz Pelaez
Could exposure to glyphosate, the active ingredient in the weed killer Roundup, cause celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity? Two scientists argue in a new research review that glyphosate could be to blame ... but I don't think they've proven their case.
The researchers, consultant Anthony Samsel and Massachusetts Institute of Technology senior research scientist Stephanie Seneff, theorize in the journal Interdisciplinary Toxicology that "glyphosate ... is the most important causal factor in this epidemic."
They write: "Fish exposed to glyphosate develop digestive problems that are reminiscent of celiac disease. Celiac disease is associated with imbalances in gut bacteria that can be fully explained by the known effects of glyphosate on gut bacteria."
According to the authors, the characteristics of celiac disease indicate impairment of particular enzymes the body uses to process vitamin D (frequently low in people with celiac) and also to produce the digestive juices needed to digest food properly. Glyphosate is known to inhibit those enzymes, they write.
In addition, the authors note, "celiac disease patients have an increased risk to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, which has also been implicated in glyphosate exposure. Reproductive issues associated with celiac disease, such as infertility, miscarriages, and birth defects, can also be explained by glyphosate."
So what should you make of all this?
Well, there's no question that glyphosate use is growing rapidly -- its manufacturer, Monsanto Company, markets it in conjunction with genetically modified "Roundup-ready" seeds designed to resist glyphosate's effects. Farmers plant the genetically modified seeds and then use the glyphosate to kill weeds in the fields, knowing that the crops themselves will not be affected by the otherwise lethal herbicide.
Contrary to popular belief, there's no "Roundup-ready" version of genetically modified wheat on the market right now (for more detail on this, see: Is genetically modified wheat causing increases in gluten issues?). However, it is common practice among farmers to spray their wheat crops with glyphosate immediately prior to harvest -- doing so actually kills the plant, which speeds the required drying of the grain. This is called "dessication."
Obviously, dousing everything we grow and then eat in massive doses of toxic chemicals (including glyphosate) can't be good for us, and likely has some as-yet undiscovered health effects. But despite the anecdotal evidence and reasoning laid out in Samsel and Senoff's paper, there's still no direct causal link between glyphosate and celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
The case they make is circumstantial, based on the reasoning that "if A causes B and B causes C, then A causes C." It's been a long time since I took Logic in college, but this reasoning doesn't hold up. In this case, there are far too many other potential variables involved.
Do I think it's possible that overuse of pesticides and herbicides -- including glyphosate -- could be contributing to our epidemic of celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity? Sure, it could. But do I think they've proved a causal link? Not based on this research paper.
There's clearly much more work to be done on this issue, but I urge you to view this paper as theory, not fact.
Photo © Getty Images/Andy Sacks
March marks National Nutrition Month, and I have to say it's understandable if you're a bit confused about some nutritional aspects of the gluten-free diet.
In fact, rarely a day goes by when I don't see an article talking about the nutritional deficits (or outright dangers) of eating gluten-free.
So what's the truth?
The truth is, it's not dangerous to eat gluten-free (so don't worry about that). However, you might want to keep an eye on a couple of potential nutritional deficiencies that can develop.
You see, the wheat-based products that make up a large chunk of most peoples' diets generally are fortified with B vitamins and iron. Gluten-free grain-based foods most often are not fortified. Therefore, if you follow a gluten-free diet, you may be missing out on those important nutrients, simply because the stuff you're eating hasn't been doctored in the same way as gluten-basted foods typically are.
Notice I said you "may" be missing some nutrients. Junk food is junk food, regardless of whether the stuff is gluten-free or not -- so if your diet consists mainly of gluten-free corn chips and M&Ms, you're likely at risk for nutritional problems, regardless of how gluten-free you are.
But many people I know in the gluten-free community eat an incredibly healthy diet -- much healthier than "standard" fare. Perhaps that's because we tend to be more health-conscious generally, or perhaps it's because we wind up having to make more food from scratch (and therefore use real food as ingredients).
Still, regardless of the reasons, we could be getting more nutrient-rich food than average. Does that mean we don't have to worry about nutrition?
Well, maybe, and maybe not. I explore gluten-free nutrition in lots more detail in these two articles:
- Do You Risk Vitamin Deficiencies by Following the Gluten-Free Diet?
- Nine Vitamins You Need If You're Gluten-Free
Another myth I see frequently is the idea that gluten-free foods are higher in calories, fat and sodium than their gluten-filled counterparts. I investigated this, and found it's just not true. You can read the details here:
The bottom line: A junk food-based diet is nutritionally risky regardless of whether you're gluten-free or not. As someone with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity who's following a gluten-free diet, you may want to make a conscious effort to boost your intake of foods with certain nutrients. But ignore anything you see claiming the gluten-free diet is nutritionally dangerous -- it's not.
Photo © Getty Images/Tooga
However, in the midst of all this, you'll need to keep an eye out for several potential medical complications that frequently occur when you've had undiagnosed celiac for some time. Malnutrition heads the list, unsurprisingly, but you may not be aware of some others.
I've pulled together a list of these complications in my article Just Diagnosed with Celiac Disease - Possible Complications. You may want to discuss these with your doctor, and see if you should be tested for them.
Photo © Getty Images
Once you're diagnosed with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, it's actually not enough to eliminate gluten from all your food. No, you also have to cleanse your kitchen -- and all your cooking gear and utensils -- of this poisonous substance.
So how do you do that? Well, you get rid of -- throw away, give away or donate -- everything in your kitchen that might harbor even a speck of gluten, and replace all that gear with fresh, new, never-touched-gluten equipment.
Think of it as a total makeover for your kitchen, aimed at radically improving your health.
Of course, you'll be able to keep some of your equipment -- stainless steel pots and pans, for example, can be cleaned well enough to rid them of those scary microscopic gluten traces (which really can bite you -- see How Much Gluten Can Make Me Sick? for the details). But lots of your stuff -- everything porous, plastic or scratched -- has to go.
Here's a list of what you'll need to get:
You don't need to spend a ton of money on this (although you certainly can if you want to!). It's possible to pick up most of this stuff at a big box store or even your local dollar store for not too much money. But trust me, you need to replace the key items -- if you don't, you'll find yourself experiencing mystery glutenings far too frequently.
Photo © Getty Images/Don Bishop
One of the biggest decisions people face when they're newly diagnosed -- and may face again as they learn how to be completely gluten-free -- is the question of whether or not they should share a kitchen with people who eat gluten.
In some cases, you may not have a choice -- your family may decline to go gluten-free with you, or you may have roommates who (quite reasonably) want their own food.
However, not everyone can make a shared kitchen work. Whether you can or not will depend on your level of sensitivity to trace gluten, plus the willingness of everyone involved to pitch in.
To guide you through that decision -- and ultimately set up a shared kitchen if that's what you decide to do -- I've written two articles:
In them, I detail the potential benefits and pitfalls to sharing a kitchen, plus how to set up a shared kitchen so it has the least chance of glutening you. Hopefully, this information will help you as you and your family members decide how to approach the question of whether to share a kitchen.
Do you share a kitchen? Would you be willing to do so? Vote in our poll!
Photo © Getty Images/Digital Vision
We've all heard, well, remarkably insensitive statements about our diets and conditions (many of which seem to deal with the impossibility of giving up gluten-containing foods). These statements get old, but they don't seem to stop ... and sometimes coming up with a less-than-snarky response can be quite the challenge.
If you struggle with keeping a smile on your face and the sarcasm out of your tone when you hear one of those statements (as I do!), then this article is for you: What Not To Say to Someone Who Can't Eat Gluten.
In it, I run down the seven most common (and most annoying) statements I've heard from day to day on the subject, and some not-snarky possible comebacks. There's also a place where you can add the most ridiculous statements you've ever heard about the diet ... and your response to those statements (I can't wait to hear!).
Of course, we all put our feet in our mouths from time to time. If you're wondering what not to say to someone who has a particular health condition -- or to someone who's just trying to improve their health -- then check out this overview article from Christine Luff, About.com's excellent Guide to Running: What Not to Say About Health Issues.
In it, she provides links to several dozen "What Not To Say" articles from our fellow health guides, ranging from "What Not To Say To Someone on a Diet" to "What Not to Say to Someone with Breast Cancer" and "What Not To Say at a Funeral." We all likely can find something not to say in this collection (I know I did).
Photo © Getty Images/Ryan McVay
Rarely a day goes by when I don't see more news on the exploding popularity of the gluten-free diet. And unless the article in question is written by someone who's already gluten-free, the attitude is one of puzzlement: Why in the world is this diet so popular?
Everyone mistakenly thinks they have celiac disease, some commentators huff. Others believe the gluten-free community exists because we're all following the lead of celebs like Gwyneth Paltrow and Miley Cirus. And finally, one pundit posited that we all simply think we need a trendy diet to replace Atkins, which spiked in popularity in the 2000s and then faded.
What amazes me, though, is none of these mainstream gurus seem to get the real reason gluten-free is so popular: "Official" diagnosis or not, we feel better (often much, much better) when we eat this way.
This is not an easy diet to follow, and I'm guessing most of us aren't doing it because we perversely enjoy needlessly complicating our lives (or because we think Gwyneth knows something we don't). So there has to be something in it for us. And that something is ... good health.
I love it when a writer comes back after gluten-free diet-bashing and admits that he or she tried the diet and (lo and behold) discovered it helped with various health complaints. These types of anecdotes -- and the experiences of those who wouldn't go back to gluten for anything -- are what's responsible for the gluten-free diet's exploding popularity.
Photo © Getty Images/Erik Isakson
As the mom of a gluten-free child, I'm always on high alert for the words "my stomach hurts." I hear those words more frequently than I would like, too ... especially this time of year, when the stomach flu seems rampant in her school. And whenever I do hear those words, I need to make a judgement call: Does she have a virus? Or did she get glutened?
Yup, it can be tough to tell the difference. The symptoms of stomach flu and a glutening overlap considerably, as do the symptoms of food poisoning and a glutening.
To help you figure out what's going on, I've pulled together a guide: Is It Stomach Flu, Is It Food Poisoning, or Did I Get Glutened? By going through the symptoms one by one, you can get hints that might help to tell you whether you should keep your child home from school, or even whether a trip to the pediatrician is in order.
Of course, I've known some kids (yes, even mine) who occasionally try to use "my stomach hurts!" as an excuse to avoid going to school.
This isn't unusual when it happens once in a while, but if it happens frequently, you may want to look around for reasons beyond glutenings that could be causing her to dislike school. I explain more in My Gluten-Free Kid Says His Stomach Hurts - Should I Keep Him Out of School?
Finally, if you have gluten-free kids, I've combined my best resources in this section: For GF Kids. There, you'll find everything from information on symptoms unique to children to recipes and sources for kid-friendly gluten-free food.
Photo © Getty Images/Roseanne Olson
Would you take a pill or a vaccine that would allow you to be less careful with your diet? You may get the chance within the next few years.
At the moment, there are four potential drugs for celiac disease in development, including two pills (one to break down gluten in your intestinal tract and one to curb leaky gut), plus a vaccine that's designed to desensitize you to gluten.
Here are the details of what's in the pipeline: Celiac Disease Drugs In Development.
All of these drugs are still in clinical trials, and it's not clear which -- if any -- eventually will be approved. But it's not too soon to think about whether you would take one.
So ... would you? Vote in the poll below.
Photo © Getty Images/Photodisc