Understanding Glutens and Celiac Disease

 

Many of us may be going easy on cupcakes, cookies, bread, and pasta as the summer – and bathing suit season – rapidly approach. But for millions of Americans, avoiding wheat products or the protein known as glutens is about more than fitting into that sundress or tightening our gut before pool and beach time arrive . . . it’s a digestive health priority.

Until several years ago, many people had never heard of glutens or of the digestive disorder known as Celiac Disease. While only one percent of Americans have Celiac Disease, as many as 10 percent may be gluten sensitive or allergic to wheat, which often causes similar symptoms. Due to similar symptoms, gluten or wheat issues can be misdiagnosed or confused with other common gastrointestinal issues such as lactose intolerance, Crohn’s Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and heartburn.

May is National Celiac Disease Awareness Month. Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease in which a person can’t tolerate gluten, a protein in wheat, rye, and barley. Gluten shows up in bread and pasta, but may also hide in many other foods such as cold cuts, salad dressings, beer and even candy and sweetened drinks.

If a person with Celiac Disease eats gluten, the lining of their small intestine becomes inflamed and damaged. That hampers the absorption of nutrients and can lead to malnutrition and weight loss. Celiac patients also struggle with symptoms such as diarrhea, upset stomach, abdominal pain, and bloating.

Celiac Disease may take years to diagnose because people don’t seek medical help, and because doctors often mistake it for IBS or other stomach disorders. It’s often a waiting game, and a process of testing and running through a list of possible culprits. For long-term sufferers, years of poor calcium absorption, a related side effect, can lead to joint and tooth problems and, for women, delayed menstruation. Besides gastrointestinal symptoms, gluten-sensitive people often complain of fatigue, headaches and arthritis-like symptoms, as well.

Celiac Disease is on the rise, with rates doubling about every 20 years in Western countries.  Ironically, researchers suspect that hygiene may play a role in that expansion. Due to far cleaner environments and hygiene, children today aren’t exposed to as many antigens in the environment while their immune systems are developing. This, it’s theorized, may result in our immune systems responding intolerantly toward glutens.

Though Celiac Disease can be diagnosed through a blood test and an intestinal biopsy, there’s no reliable test for gluten sensitivity. It often runs in families, and diagnosis requires discussion and tracking of symptoms. Patients are typically asked to eat glutens so the body produces antibodies for the blood test to detect Celiac disease. If a person simply stops ingesting gluten, a Celiac Disease diagnosis can be missed or delayed. Currently it is estimated that 80 percent of the Celiac Disease population remains undiagnosed.

Some people experience symptoms found in celiac disease, such as depression, ADHD-like behavior, abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, headaches, bone or joint pain, and chronic fatigue when they have gluten in their diet, yet do not test positive for celiac disease. The terms non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) and non-celiac wheat sensitivity (NCWS) are generally used to refer to this condition, and removing gluten from the diet resolves symptoms.

Likewise, for people with gluten allergies or sensitivities, a strict, gluten-free diet can typically allow the intestines to restore themselves to health and alleviate suffering.  Supermarkets and health food stores now carry a variety of gluten-free products, and new labeling requirements on processed foods do a better job of listing ingredients. Many restaurants and take-out food services have gluten-free products, as well.

It’s important to note, though, that while gluten-free eating is life-changing for many, if you don’t have gluten sensitivities or Celiac Disease, going “gluten free” is not good for your health. Contrary to common belief, a gluten-free diet won’t aid weight loss, and can cause deficiencies in iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, magnesium, fiber, and other nutrients that we typically gain through bread, cereals and other grains that are fortified. Additionally, gluten-free products on store shelves are typically higher in carbohydrates, fat and sodium, and lower in fiber.

With proper direction, people can bake healthier breads at home, varieties that are higher in fiber and protein and made with gluten-free grains that have been certified to be uncontaminated and gluten-free, such as quinoa, amaranth, or millet. If you suspect you may be gluten sensitive, talk with your physician – there are many healthy alternatives!


Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

 

Sunny Side Up for Eggs, Not Skin

After a long, cold winter and damp spring, the sun feels fabulous on our skin. We’re drawn to the warmth, happy to sit outdoors and bask, and wear our reddened skin and new seasonal tans proudly. But whether you’re a true sun worshipper, weekend gardener, sports enthusiast, or outdoor worker, there’s peril in the pleasure the sun affords us . . . like so much else in life, too much isn’t good for us.

Unprotected exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the United States. In fact, UV radiation from the sun and from tanning beds is classified as a human carcinogen by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization. Each year, more new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. than new cases of breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancer combined. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and one American dies from skin cancer every hour.

Chronic exposure to the sun suppresses our natural immune system and also causes premature aging, which over time can make the skin become thick, wrinkled, and leathery. Since it occurs gradually, often manifesting itself many years after the majority of a person’s sun exposure, premature aging is often regarded as an unavoidable, normal part of growing older. However, up to 90 percent of the visible skin changes commonly attributed to aging are caused by the sun. With proper protection from UV radiation, many forms of skin cancer and most premature aging of the skin can be avoided.

Protecting ourselves from unhealthy UV exposure

The best way to lower our risk of skin cancer is to protect our skin from the sun and ultraviolet light. Using sunscreen and avoiding the sun help reduce the chance of many aging skin changes, including some skin cancers. However, even with sunscreen, people should not stay out too long during peak sunlight hours; UV rays can still penetrate our clothes and skin and do harm.

When possible, avoid sun exposure during the peak hours of 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, when UV rays are the strongest. Clouds and haze do not protect us from the sun, so use sun protection even on cloudy day, especially sunscreens that block out both UVA and UVB radiation. Products that contain either zinc oxide or titanium oxide offer the best protection. Less expensive products that have the same ingredients work as well as expensive ones. Older children and adults (even those with darker skin) benefit from using SPFs (sun protection factor) of 15 and over. Many experts recommend that most people use SPF 30 or higher on the face and 15 or higher on the body, and people who burn easily or have risk factors for skin cancer should use SPF 50+.

Here are some simple tips for using sunscreen effectively:

  • Adults and children should wear sunscreen every day, even if they go outdoors for only a short time.
  • Apply 30 minutes before going outdoors for best results. This allows time for the sunscreen to be absorbed.
  • Remember to use sunscreen during the winter when snow and sun are both present.
  • Reapply at least every two hours while you are out in the sunlight.
  • Reapply after swimming or sweating. Waterproof formulas last for about 40 minutes in the water, and water-resistant formulas last half as long.

We don’t have to be afraid of going outdoors – to the contrary, outside walking, exercise, work and play are healthy and invigorating. But protecting ourselves can limit longer-term wellness hazards. Here are additional safety tips and information:

  • Adults and children should wear hats with wide brims to shield from the sun’s rays.
  • Wear protective clothing. Look for loose-fitting, unbleached, tightly woven fabrics. The tighter the weave, the more protective the garment.
  • Avoid sun lamps, tanning beds, and tanning salons.
  • Buy clothing and swimwear that block out UV rays. This clothing is rated using SPF (as used with sunscreen) or a system called the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) index.
  • Avoid surfaces that reflect light, such as water, sand, concrete, snow, and white-painted areas.
  • Beware that at higher altitudes you burn more quickly.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Go Nuts!

 

When it comes to a heart-healthy diet, you’d be hard pressed to find a better food than nuts.

One of nature’s wonderful nutritional gifts, nuts are plentiful, come in many varieties, are readily available and should be a part of every diet.

Nuts contain unsaturated fatty acids and other nutrients, and are a great snack food. They are simple to store, and easy to pack when we’re on the go. They’re also high in protein and fiber which delays absorption and decreases hunger, so frequent nut eaters are less likely to gain weight.

Nuts are energy-dense foods rich in bioactive macronutrients, micronutrients and phytochemicals. They contain monounsaturated fat, vitamin E, folic acid, magnesium, copper, protein, and fiber, and are rich in antioxidant phytochemicals.

The unique composition of nuts is critical for their health effects. Patients who eat a “Mediterranean-style” diet rich in nuts or extra virgin olive oil — as well as vegetables and wine — have fewer heart attacks, strokes, or deaths from cardiovascular disease than those who eat a diet that simply lowers their intake of dietary fat.

Nuts, seeds, and pulses have been a regular part of mankind’s diet since pre-agricultural times. In Western countries, nuts are consumed as snacks, desserts or part of a meal, and are eaten whole (fresh or roasted), in spreads (peanut butter, almond paste), as oils or hidden in commercial products, mixed dishes, sauces, pastries, ice creams and baked goods.

The type of nut we eat isn’t that important, although some nuts have more heart-healthy nutrients and fats than do others. Almost every type of nut has a lot of nutrition relative to its size. People who eat nuts as part of a heart-healthy diet can lower the low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol level in their blood. High LDL is one of the primary causes of heart disease. Eating nuts may reduce our risk of developing blood clots that can cause a fatal heart attack. Nuts also appear to improve the health of the lining of our arteries.

As much as 80 percent of a nut is fat. Even though most of this fat is healthy fat, it’s still a lot of calories. That’s why we should eat nuts in moderation and use nuts as a substitute for saturated fats, such as those found in meats, eggs and dairy products. The American Heart Association recommends eating four servings of unsalted nuts a week.

When possible, choose raw or dry-roasted nuts rather than those cooked in oil. A serving is a small handful (1.5 ounces) of whole nuts or two tablespoons of nut butter. But again, do this as part of a heart-healthy diet. Just eating nuts and not cutting back on saturated fats found in many dairy and meat products won’t do our hearts any good. And when possible, avoid salted nuts.

Walnuts are one of the best-studied nuts, and it’s been shown they contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts and pecans are other nuts that appear to be quite heart healthy. And peanuts — which are technically not a nut, but a legume, like beans — seem to be relatively healthy. Keep in mind, though, we cancel out the heart-healthy benefits of nuts if they’re covered with chocolate, sugar, or salt.

Besides being packed with protein, most nuts contain at least some of these heart-healthy substances:

  • Unsaturated fats. It’s not entirely clear why, but it’s thought that the “good” fats in nuts — both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — lower bad cholesterol levels.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. Many nuts are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are a healthy form of fatty acids that seem to help our heart by, among other things, preventing dangerous heart rhythms that can lead to heart attacks. Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in many kinds of fish, but nuts are one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • All nuts contain fiber, which helps lower our cholesterol. Fiber makes us feel full, so we eat less. Fiber is also thought to play a role in preventing diabetes.
  • Vitamin E. Vitamin E may help stop the development of plaques in our arteries, which can narrow them. Plaque development in our arteries can lead to chest pain, coronary artery disease or a heart attack.
  • Plant sterols. Some nuts contain plant sterols, a substance that can help lower our cholesterol. Plant sterols are often added to products like margarine and orange juice for additional health benefits, but sterols occur naturally in nuts.
  • L-arginine. Nuts are also a source of l-arginine, which is a substance that may help improve the health of our artery walls by making them more flexible and less prone to blood clots that can block blood flow.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

 

Teams Who Play Together, Grow Together

With the return of warm weather and lengthening days, spring is the perfect time to plan outdoor activities designed around sports, walking, bike riding, water activities, and much more that — besides being fun and healthy — can stimulate teamwork, boost morale, and improve productivity.

Softball, volleyball, tennis, basketball, and many other team-related recreational opportunities are or will soon be available locally. If you haven’t already, now might be a good opportunity to see what events and activities appeal to your workforce, and support or sponsor one or more team endeavors. Fair weather also heralds charitable walks, runs, bicycling and all manner of fundraisers that offer great team-building options and promote healthy activities.

Employers also can encourage individual recreational pursuits — for example, offering support to employees who are interested in community gardening, and for planting flower boxes around their communities. Other outdoor activities that are fun with groups can include hiking, bird-watching, nature walks, park and river clean-up days, rock climbing, and much more. Organizations like the Audubon and Sierra Clubs, local YMCA or YWCA facilities, Boys and Girls Clubs, and private gyms host special days, seasonal activities, and competitive events worth exploring.

Whatever employers do to support employee activities can be good for morale and teamwork. And improved teamwork and attitudes boost productivity, retention and quality, reduce absenteeism and accidents, and increase voluntary participation. Not to mention the health and wellness benefits!

Of course, activities aren’t limited to the outdoors. There are bowling and indoor fitness workouts, spinning, swimming, cooking, art and pottery classes … there’s no limit if you apply your imagination.

Team weight-loss efforts and competitive programs also are trending. One CBIA Health Connections employer created a health and wellness committee to brainstorm and plan activities. They linked several of their activities to national health- and wellness-related observances. Another tied their activities to local events, charities, and parks. Many employers sponsor classes, health screenings, nutritional education, and internal competitions. It’s all good fun, can be used to support charitable programs, and helps build stronger workplace teams.

This month is National Great Outdoors Month and there are a variety of activities planned at Connecticut State parks, perfect locations for picnics and outings. And even though it’s not even summer yet, it’s never too early to begin planning for the autumn and winter – by building a schedule well in advance, you can encourage more employee involvement in planning and implementing activities that ultimately improve teamwork, enhance morale and productivity and support health and wellness.

If you’re looking to link activities to disease prevention and education, every month in the United States, there are a dozen or more “formal” health-related awareness commemorations. These provide great topics around which you, your wellness champion, management team, or staff employees can develop an action plan for one or more outdoor activities.

There’s something for everyone, ranging from high-profile cancer awareness months for ovarian, prostrate, breast, lung and skin cancers, to fruit and vegetables “matter” month, obesity, eye and hearing care, diabetes, yoga, UV protection, blood pressure, workplace and helmet safety, immunizations, and much more.

Healthier employees are happier employees. They get sick less often, suffer from fewer incidences of chronic diseases, and have reduced absenteeism and sick days. There’s no down side to encouraging work teams to play together outdoors; start your planning now, come up with some cool team names and tee-shirts, and have fun getting – and staying – healthy!


If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!