By Bob Condor

Gluten-free eating is becoming easier as natural groceries, some supermarket chains, bakeries and restaurants all strive to provide tasty options that don’t contain the central wheat ingredient. Some people go gluten-free on a natural health practitioner’s suggestion (OK, urging at times), feel better, say, less congested and more energetic, which in turn motivates them to learn new recipes that bypasses the gluten (spelt bread or rice pasta, anyone?).

In some treatment programs, the patient or client will go gluten-free for an extended period to discover whether it helps a condition, then add back small to moderate amounts of wheat foods into his or her diet. But for some recharged gluten-free eaters going back to wheat (and other grass-related grains with gluten, such as barley and rye) in pizzas, cookies, breads and pastas is a sickening choice.

Those folks, diagnosed or not, suffer from celiac disease. It is an autoimmune digestive disorder that disrupts the intestinal tract when gluten is part of the diet. The gluten specifically damages the surface of the small intestine, leading the body to struggle to absorb vital nutrients and vitamins.

A new report from Dr. Jennifer Wider of the Society for Women’s Health Research states about two million American face the disease and it affects twice as many women as men. This ratio is common in the autoimmune disorder statistics and sometimes considerably more lopsided women compared to men.

It may seem like an easy condition to manage, but gluten is a protein found in many grains and is in a multitude of foods that include wheat, rye, barley or oats. When foods with gluten are digested, an immune reaction is triggered that damages the surface of the small intestine, resulting in the body’s inability to absorb needed vitamins and nutrients from food.

One major problem with celiac disease is the difficulty of diagnosing the condition. Symptoms vary

by individual and a substantial number of doctors don’t contain wheat/gluten or even diet in general to adverse medical outcomes. That might change as mainstream medical schools, such as one at the University of Maryland in Baltimate, established centers for celiac research and treatment.

Nonetheless, the symptoms of diarrhea, bloating and abdominal pain are huge drags on quality of life. And scientists are beginning to more directly link the consequences of other autoimmune diseases—lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, colitis and thyroid disease with some level of celiac intolerance.

It be worth a try for anyone with autoimmune problems to submit to a simple blood test that screens for the disease. Same goes for anyone who consistently endures intestinal symptoms. There are times when doctors must get a sample of intestinal tissue to confirm damage.

Shopping for gluten-free foods looks to get more consumer-friendly this summer. The Food and Drug Administration is scheduled to publish a a standard definition of “gluten-free” in August that will signal certain qualities and expectations.

For more info on celiac disease, check out the American Celiac Disease Alliace site ( or the Celiac Sprue Association (

“Bob Condor is the Daily Health Blogger for Barton Publishing. He is also the Living Well columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He covers natural health and quality of life issues and writes regularly for national magazines, including Life, Esquire, Parade, Self, and Outside. He is a former syndicated health columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author of six books, including “The Good Mood Diet” and “Your Prostate Cancer Survivors' Guide.” He lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and two 11-year-old kids.”