The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia


September 16, 2012

The problem with gluten

Not-So-Golden Waves of Grain:

When Raleigh Center Daniels residents, a sampling of some of the most discriminating palates this side of Bobby Flay’s test kitchen, crowded Chef Michele Koeniger’s demo table to congratulate her, she had to chuckle. “You outdid yourself this time,” they told her, patting her on the back as they exited. What they didn’t know, hadn’t hurt them. In fact, it may have helped them. The meal they’d just enjoyed was entirely gluten-free.

Koeniger has perfected gluten-free fare, constantly tweaking her recipes to comply with a rainbow of dietary restraints. Gluten is absolutely restricted in some residents’ diets; it is curtailed in others who have demonstrated an intolerance for it. “We offer gluten-free options for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Koeniger explains. “The dishes are similar to what we’re serving others. We don’t want to make the gluten-free patients feel like outcasts.”

Gluten is the collective term for the proteins of specific grains identified as harmful in particular to those with celiac disease, an inherited auto immune condition affecting digestion and proper nutrition. Gluten occurs naturally in all forms of wheat, but also in barley, rye and spelt, or hulled wheat. Even some traditionally safe grains are culprits by association from processing, says Dr. Janet Lintala, an expert on gluten intolerance and other auto immune driven digestive problems.

“Oats in this country are technically gluten-free, but where they are processed makes them contaminated with wheat. They have to be specified gluten-free.”

Dr. Lintala is the founder of the Autism Recovery Resource Center, PLLC, Beckley. Much of her work and research is in the area of gluten intolerance and the digestive problems linked to autism spectrum disorder in children. While she describes celiac disease as “an absolute intolerance to gluten,” resulting in serious conditions like intestinal distress and failure to thrive, there are others who have sensitivity to gluten as well as casein, the protein in milk, especially if they have what she and other experts classify as a “leaky gut,” or increased intestinal permeability.

“Up to 70 percent of those with autism may have this leaky gut and patients could be either allergic or sensitive to gluten or have gluten intolerance.” In these patients, describes Lintala, the breakdown of gluten and casein causes opiate-like effects, including severe constipation and cognitive issues.

Some doctors are choosing to take gluten away from patient diets, categorizing it as an inflammatory food. Heart physicians, health gurus and general practice physicians are reading studies and recognizing gluten as potentially health adverse.

In his book Wheat Belly, cardiologist William Davis, M.D. points out the extent to which wheat has been genetically modified for mass consumption in America. “It used to be four-foot tall amber waves of grain,” explains Lintala. “Now, it’s 18 inches tall, very stiff and heavily laden with grain.” While a formal study by no means, Lintala’s observation with patients who live here but go abroad to visit family is they report an ability to eat grain in their native countries, but not the grain processed here. “This is assumption,” clarifies Lintala, adding there is solid data to suggest a more widespread intolerance to gluten than that contained within the celiac disease population.

What she suggests for those who may suspect a level of gluten intolerance is to do their own informal study starting at home. “Do a trial where you eat gluten-free.” If there’s a noticeable difference in the way you feel, then maybe you’re onto something.

One warning: Lintala says if you suspect you or your child may have celiac disease, it isn’t a good idea to stop gluten before seeing a doctor for testing. “If gluten is removed from the diet beforehand, the initial testing may come up negative.”

 For more on gluten and gluten-free eating, call the Autism Recovery Center at 304-255- 2550 for books and information from their free lending library.

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