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Don’t be a Glutton for Gluten

Today’s health food stores stock a wide variety of goods to meet the needs of every diet known to mankind- low fat, low sugar, processed-free, nondairy, low carb, high protein…but what gives with gluten-free?

Gluten is a protein found in grain products such as wheat, spelt and barley, among others.  Patients of celiac disease, a disorder which distresses the small intestines, have trouble digesting such products and are thus advised to follow a gluten-free diet.  Health food aisles abound with gluten-free cake mixes, breads and pastas.  Hundreds of recipe web sites offer creative suggestions for gluten-free living.

Rewind to thirty years ago, and most people would probably have not heard of celiac disease.  So, how did celiac disease suddenly become a household name?  Modernization provides a key – despite the advice from numerous health experts, we Americans still love our Wonder bread; those light, airy loaves cannot be produced without rich, glutinous dough, and agriculturalists have been striving to deliver the most highly glutinous crops of wheat available in order to meet our demands.

Another culprit might be commercial yeast, which has replaced sourdough yeast as the preferred rising agent among bread makers. According to a report published by Applied and Environmental Microbiology, sourdough yeast contains bacteria which break down the gluten in the dough, thereby reducing the likeliness of bowel irritation.  Commercial yeasts offer no such protection.

Celiac disease can lead to other complications such as osteoporosis, anemia resulting from B12 deficiency, fatigue and weight gain, to name just a few. Incidences of celiac disease are rising, either due to increased wheat consumption or the public’s rising awareness of the disorder.

A doctor’s visit is required in order to ascertain whether one is suffering from celiac or from gluten intolerance, the latter of which is less harmful.  Although gluten intolerance does not create any lasting damage, some experts believe that the continuance of a high-gluten diet might lead to an eventual celiac disease diagnosis.

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