Gluten Free For Good


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I love this calendar that Mike, bonzer* Chicago art director and graphic designer, created and sent me for Christmas (okay, not just me – a bunch of people got copies).

First off, the calendar is just plain cool, don’t you agree? And second, it’s full of fun and important bits of trivia. Like tomorrow is groundhog day – and you know what that means. Or, do you? February 2nd is that special time each year when the whole world turns its attention to that sweet boy, Punxsuta-something Phil, who will check out the weather situation (factoring in for global warming) and let us know if we’re facing six more weeks of winter or not. I’m betting on the six more weeks part. Blizzards, powder days, heavy snows, a few random sub-zero nights – this is Colorado, winter’s far from over. Plus, I don’t want a short ski season, so I’m praying for more snow.

February is also American Heart Month, so I thought I’d focus a few of my posts on health tips and nutrition for gluten-free, heart-healthy living. For more information about American Heart Month and some great recipes and links, check out Michelle’s blog, the accidentalscientist.

Since it’s Heart Month and I have celiac disease, I thought I’d tie the two together and give you some information about how celiac disease can impact heart function. As my “about” page explains, I’m a nutrition therapist with a degree in exercise science. I also have a special interest in cardiac function and did my six month internship in cardiac rehab, so anything and everything to do with heart health appeals to me. And I mean that spiritually, anatomically, and physiologically. Yes, they all go together to me – body, mind, and spirit.

We’ll start with the basics – celiac disease is a genetically predisposed, immune-mediated disorder triggered by the ingestion of gluten, the main storage protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Although it was once considered a rare childhood disease marked by diarrhea, malnutrition, and failure to thrive, the majority of cases are now atypical, involving a wide variety of non-specific symptoms. Adult patients are often asymptomatic or diagnosed with conditions mistakenly unassociated with celiac disease. The clinical characteristics can include several multi-system autoimmune features. A delay in diagnosis and treatment, resulting in years of ongoing inflammation and nutrient malabsorption, increases the progression of other autoimmune diseases. Many adults with unmanaged celiac disease show signs of bone loss, anemia, thyroid disorders, peripheral neuropathies, infertility and recurrent miscarriage, type 1 diabetes, Sjorgren’s syndrome, and even cardiomyopathy.

According to Dr. Peter Green, who celiacchick Kelly calls the Australian Paul McCartney, autoimmune cardiomyopathy can be associated with celiac disease. Cardiomyopathy is chronic inflammation of the heart leading to diseased tissue. It is a weakening and deterioration of the structure and function of the heart muscle itself. There are four main types of cardiomyopathy: dilated, hypertrophic, restrictive, and arrhythmogenic. Dilated, or congestive, is the most common form and the type connected with celiac disease. It is autoimmune in nature and if left untreated, the heart muscle becomes inflamed and abnormally enlarged causing impaired ability to pump blood, arrythmias (disturbances in heart rate and rhythm), and even valve damage. That doesn’t sound good, but with proper nutrition, positive lifestyle changes, and adherence to a gluten-free diet, studies show celiac patients with cardiomyopathy can gain improved cardiac function.

But here’s the deal – the gluten-free diet has to be a healthy diet. Colorful fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy gluten-free grains, and lean meats should be the mainstay, not processed, packaged, or high-fat foods – gluten-free or not. So, eat a variety of simple, whole foods, preferably organic. Whole foods are gluten-free by default, no label reading needed, and they also provide an abundant mixture of heart-healthy nutrients.

In good health,
P.S. Stay tuned for more ways to love and protect your heart!

*For Katie and my other Australian and New Zealand readers way down under.
(bonzer |ˈbänzər| adjective Australia/NZ, informal excellent, first-rate. ORIGIN early 20th century: perhaps an alteration of bonanza)

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Disclaimer: All material on this website is provided for informational and educational use only and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.
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