Women with various health problems such as infertility or unexplained fatigue and gastrointestinal distress should consider gluten -- a protein found in wheat and related grains -- as a possible explanation.
"A landmark study in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2003 found that celiac disease -- a common inherited autoimmune disorder in which gluten damages the digestive system -- strikes about 1 million American women," says Carol Fenster, Ph.D., publisher of Wheat-Free Recipes and Menus and five other books for people who live without wheat.
Gluten damages the small intestine, allowing nutrients to pass through unabsorbed, Fenster explains, and can lead to various health issues, including infertility. In fact, the study found that 1 in 16 infertility patients has celiac disease and experts suggest that women with a history of miscarriages, stillbirths, and premature menopause should be tested to rule out celiac disease as a contributing factor.
"About 10-15% of Americans follow wheat-free diets," says Fenster, whose own problem with wheat was finally diagnosed after years of chronic sinusitis, a common symptom of wheat-sensitivity, "and the numbers are growing as more people are willing to consider wheat -- an otherwise harmless, nutritious food -- as the culprit."
Fortunately, she assures, the health of wheat-sensitive people is restored when they avoid it by buying wheat-free food in health food stores, supermarkets, and by mail-order -- and making their own wheat-free food at home using one of Fenster's cookbooks.
"Avoid hidden wheat by learning the other names it goes by -- flour, durum, semolina, spelt, rye, and barley are a few," advises Fenster, "and read ingredient labels carefully to avoid hidden wheat in commercially prepared foods and the ingredients you use when cooking at home." Wheat lurks in canned cream soups and licorice candy, she warns.
After one's health is restored by avoiding wheat, this diet must be maintained indefinitely, says Fenster, since there is no cure for celiac disease or any other form of wheat sensitivity. But the good news, she rejoices, is that you control this condition by what you eat, rather than taking expensive medication for the rest of your life.