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Local Doctor Explains Benefits Of Gluten-Free Diet

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Gluten-free has become the latest trend in diets with celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Lady Gaga trying it.

Now, a lot of people are wondering if they should try a gluten-free diet and if it will help them lose weight, be healthier or feel better.

As KDKA-TV's Kristine Sorensen found out, it's not for everyone, but for some, it might be worth a try.

Who doesn't love a slice of pizza, hot out of the oven?

Colleen Tracy does, but she and her 4-year-old daughter, Julia, can only eat it at Mandy's Pizza in West View, because it's gluten and allergy free.

Julia has severe allergies and Colleen is gluten sensitive.

She figured that out after not feeling like herself.

"I just didn't always feel I had great energy. I had some digestive problems, rashes, things like that, sluggish, and I had brain fog. I couldn't think, I couldn't concentrate as easily as I used to," Colleen said.

She tried going gluten free and immediately felt better.

"Taking out these foods for good has made me feel great all the time," Colleen said.

So what is gluten?

It's a group of proteins found in wheat, rye and barley, which give bread its spongy texture.

Dr. Will Clower, a neuroscientist, said the symptoms for gluten sensitivity can be all over the map.

"You can have bloating, you can have gastrointestinal ugliness, diarrhea, constipation," Dr. Clower said. "It can induce headaches, it can induce dizziness, it can induce brain fog where you're just not thinking clearly."

The diagnosis could fall along a spectrum of gluten problems.

The extreme is celiac disease -- an autoimmune disorder that causes the body to fight gluten and can damage the organs – which affects about one in 133 people.

There's also wheat allergy, which is more common in children and is not specific to gluten.

There is also gluten sensitivity, where gluten causes inflammation along the bowel. Some research shows six percent of the population is gluten sensitive.

It can develop later in life, like it did for Colleen and Dr. Clower's wife, who figured out she's gluten sensitive two months ago.

So, why is it that we're hearing so much about gluten now? Are there more people with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, or are we just more aware?

Dr. Clower said both are valid reasons.

First, our wheat is different than it used to be.

"In the 1950s, was aggressive program of hybridization and cross hybridization and on and on and on to get certain strains of wheat that are shorter, more durable and has more gluten in it," Dr. Clower said.

Plus, the bread is baked faster now, which leaves more gluten in it.

However, we're also more aware.

The best-selling book "Wheat Belly" advocates a wheat-free diet.

Stores like the Market District in Robinson have huge gluten-free sections.

However, there's one other important thing to mention.

If it's weight loss you're looking for going gluten free is not necessarily the answer.

"Don't look at it as a magic bullet for weight loss because it's just not," Dr. Clower said.

Dr. Clower said some people have lost weight on the diet, but gluten has nothing to do with it. It's because they're eating more vegetables and fruit and cutting out junk foods that have gluten like cookies, donuts and chips.

"If you give up all that snack food, suddenly you're losing all that sugar, suddenly that sugar's not making you tired and hungry and you feel better," Dr. Clower said.

In fact, if you buy gluten-free replacements for food like pretzels and cookies, they're usually higher in calories and fat than conventional food.

Colleen said she has lost weight on a gluten-free and sugar-free diet, but that's not why she's doing it.

"I have to feel good. I don't want to be hungry. I want to be healthy and it's expensive and a lot of work," Colleen said. "If I could eat gluten and not worry about it, and have healthy body and not worry about it, I would do it, but it doesn't work for me."

Dr.. Clower said if you have some of these symptoms, it's pretty easy to try going gluten free and you'll probably know within two weeks if that was your problem.

However, to really know if you have gluten sensitivity, you have to take a blood test and you must do that before going gluten-free or the test won't work, so it's best to check with your doctor first.


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