Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Gluten Sensitivities: Malabsorption of Nutrients Contribute to Issues of "Aging"

Since my 30's, I knew I was sensitive to gluten. It makes me sneeze within less than a half hour after eating offending foods.

What I never knew is how much eating wheat (and others foods containing gluten) affects absorption of essential nutrients. Eating bread, pizza, or pasta seemed like a trivial sin with a small price to pay, namely some sneezing and a slow start the following morning.

With an autoimmune diagnosis last fall, I've been on a gluten-free diet for close to six months, and I've continued to learn more about gluten intolerance and gluten-free living, even though I am not a celiac disease patient.

Turns out the seemingly minor sin of eating foods with gluten exacts a much higher price with malabsorption issues when one is sensitive to gluten. When tiny, finger-like villi responsible for absorbing nutrients in the small intestines become inflamed, due to immune system reactivity to gluten, nutritional uptake decreases.

Calcium and folate absorption suffers when gluten damage affects the upper part of the small intestine. Absorption of macronutrients-- like protein, carbohydrates, and fats--along with fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K becomes a problem when damage from gluten progresses further in the small intestinal tract.

Many conditions associated with aging start with some level of gluten intolerance, unbeknownst to those who suffer or their health care practitioners. For example, dyspepsia is twice as likely in celiac patients over the general population. Women with celiac disease have been found to have significantly lower bone calcium content than control subjects without celiac disease. Most people don't know that "osteoporosis is considered a relatively frequent atypical presentation of CD" (celiac disease). It makes sense though: an inflamed small intestine cannot absorb enough calcium or vitamin D to build bones effectively.

Dermatitis herpetiformis is clinically a form of celiac disease and is often misdiagnosed as eczema, contact dermatitis, or psoriasis, skin conditions which present as a rash on the elbows, knees, buttocks, and also on the neck, upper back, scalp, and hairline. I know, not a pretty picture, but many people you know could be helped by identifying gluten as the root cause of their itchy, inflamed skin.

Meanwhile, it's a vicious cycle story when malabsorption is in play. Supplementation may not even be so helpful when the small intestines have been damaged. Only healing the gut with a gluten-free diet will remedy long-standing nutritional deficiencies. Improvements can start within days with healing taking from 6 months to 2 years, depending on severity of damage.

It's not easy to go gluten free but it is getting easier with increased choices within the gluten-free foods category. If you decide to go gluten-free to improve your own uptake of nutrients, I am here to cheer you on, as I've found my own efforts quite rewarding!

Monday, May 18, 2009

DNA Damage Happens in as Few as 3 Days from Air Pollution

It's a not-so-well-known fact that Salt Lake City has really bad, polluted air. The worst cities for short-term particle pollution included Salt Lake City (#6) and Logan, Utah, a city to the north (at #8). Pittsburgh, PA (#1), Fresno, CA (#2), Bakersfield, CA (#3), Los Angeles, CA (#4), and Birmingham, AL (#5) were the cities with worse air than Salt Lake City.

Why such bad air in a state known for pristine snowpack (think: winter Olympics) and the haven of outdoorsy folks of all kinds?

Alas, nasty particulates from from the state's many coal-burning power plants (which release loads of mercury), the Kennecott Copper Mine and Refinery (which ranks among the dirtiest plants with respect to total environmental and cancer risk releases), along with sundry West Coast pollution (blown in and trapped by the Wasatch Mountains) all contribute to the bad air.

So, what does "short-term particle pollution" actually mean? According to ABC.com reporting:

"Communities ranking high on this list have short-term spikes in particle pollution that can last anywhere from a few hours to several days. And it's these short-term spikes that increase the number of emergency room visits for asthma and other respiratory diseases, along with upping the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and early death among residents."

And, why is this so important to consider, especially if you don't live in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, or Salt Lake City?

When I read today that environmental toxins can damage cellular DNA in a little as three days, I gasped (yes, a deep breath of contaminated air here in Salt Lake City). Reports of bouts of allergies may, in fact, have a lot more to do with toxic particles in the air than pollen. And, short-term exposures, even in normally cleaner air communities, can be quite damaging.

According to research out of the University of Milan, after only three days of exposure to high levels of pollution, negative changes occurred in four genes that have been linked to tumor suppression.

It's crazy hard to keep up with what's affecting our poor bodies (soils depleted of trace minerals, foods contaminated with pesticides, air pollution, toxic fumes from carpets and glues off-gassin, and on and on).

My take these days (and my dear friend, Dr. Hugo Rodier's long-held view) is that our bodies need all the help they can get with detoxification. Simple things help--like drinking lots of water, eating lots of fiber, and eating cruciferous veggies (with I3C, a potent detoxifier) help. Saunas help, a lot!

And, supplementing with well-studied detoxifiers found in our Constant Health formula, like milk thistle, glycine, glutamine, n-acetyl-cysteine, curcumin, calcium-d-glucarate (another source of I3C), and soluble fibers like apple pectin and guar gum all support detoxifying the body.

New research on reversing DNA damage will inevitably focus on developing cancer drugs. That will take a long time and a lot of money and side effects will be unknown. Until then, consider protecting your cells against damage through nutritional early interventions.