The Downside of Gluten-Free Eating

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The Downside of Gluten-Free Eating
A recent Consumer Reports survey of 1,000 Americans found that 63 percent believed that following a gluten-free diet would be good for them, resulting in better digestion, healthy weight loss, increased energy, lower cholesterol and a stronger immune system. But the magazine’s research of the scientific evidence suggested otherwise. It reported that unless you’re among the seven percent of Americans who have true celiac disease (an inherited, autoimmune disorder that damages the small intestine when those with this condition consume gluten), going gluten-free could have more risk than benefit. The investigation found that many products touted as gluten-free aren’t enriched or fortified with micro-nutrients such as folic acid and iron, which are common additions to wheat flour. What’s more, these gluten-free products may be higher in fat and sugar than regular versions, contain rice or rice flour, which in turn may expose you to more inorganic arsenic than considered safe. In addition, there’s no scientific evidence that a gluten-free diet will help you lose weight – the opposite is more likely to occur (patients with celiac disease frequently gain weight on the gluten-free diet). The CR team also points out that gluten-free products are often more expensive than their regular counterparts, and analysis indicates that some of them contain more than the FDA’s limit of less than 20 parts per million of gluten.

My take? While some experts have agreed that "non-celiac gluten sensitivity" can be seen clinically, and that those affected may benefit from a gluten-free diet, there is no reliable test for gluten sensitivity. The only way to be reasonably confident that gluten is the problem is to rule out other medical possibilities and undergo a trial period without gluten in the diet. The most common symptoms linked to gluten sensitivity are digestive problems (similar to those of irritable bowel syndrome), headache, fatigue, numbness, and depression as well as more than 100 different non-specific symptoms including "foggy mind," ADHD-like behavior, anemia, joint pain, osteoporosis, leg numbness and balance problems. Other than for true celiac patients, I know of no evidence demonstrating that following a gluten-free diet leads to all the health benefits being claimed for it, but if you feel positive changes in your health without gluten, be sure to consider the other important aspects of diet, including fiber and nutrition.

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Do You Have Text Neck?
The alarming news that millions of people who habitually send text messages from their smart phones could eventually develop a postural problem leading to early wear-and-tear on the spine, degeneration and even surgery went viral before Thanksgiving. The source was the early release of a paper by New York spine specialist Kenneth Hansrajn that will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Surgery Technology International. In an interview with the Washington Post Dr. Hansraj said "text neck" is "epidemic or, at least…very common." Or maybe not. In a related article published in The Atlantic on November 25, contributor James Hamblin, M.D., notes that the position of the head when you’re texting is essentially the same as it is when you’re reading a book or holding a baby. Dr. Hamblin also quoted Washington University in Saint Louis neurosurgeon Ian Dorward, who took issue with the assertion that there’s an epidemic of "text neck" since Dr. Hansraj provided no evidence of this in his paper and no objective evidence of "wreckage of any spines." Dr. Dorward also noted that what’s really increasing wear and tear on the spine is the obesity epidemic. As you gain weight, your center of gravity moves forward, which can drastically increase the force on the lumbar spine. And, for the record, he made the point that "people are walking around now while texting, falling into water fountains and lakes and walking into traffic—that’s a real danger."

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Heartburn Drugs May Interfere with Your Microbiome
The drugs in question are proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), including Prilosec and Nexium. A study from the Mayo Clinic found that taking the drugs frequently or for long periods may affect the balance of bacteria in your digestive system (known collectively as your microbiome), which in turn may increase the risk of infection, particularly with the bacterium Clostridium difficile, which causes severe and often debilitating diarrhea. In addition to this risk, PPI’s have been linked to vitamin deficiencies, bone fractures and increased risk of pneumonia. The study authors didn’t advise that people who take the heartburn drugs should give them up, but they did caution that PPIs should be used at their lowest effective dose and that patients who take them should periodically consider attempts to discontinue them. PPIs are frequently recommended for gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) characterized by heartburn that occurs twice a week or more. The study was a small one, with only 9 participants who took 20 or 40 milligrams of the drug daily for 28 days and provided stool samples for examination, allowing researchers to document changes in the bacterial balance of their microbiomes. The investigators noted that a larger study is warranted to further investigate the effect of the drugs on the microbiome. In addition to drugs such as PPI’s, you can address GERD by eating smaller portions, losing weight, avoiding lying down for two hours after eating, and abstaining from alcohol, cigarettes and foods that commonly trigger heartburn.

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Recipe: Cilantro Walnut Pesto
Traditional pesto is based on crushed (the term derives from the Genoese pestâ, "to pound") basil leaves and pine nuts, but I like to mix up the recipe.

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