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Traditional Chinese Medicine and the Gluten-Free Lifestyle

by Alex A. Kecskes

Traditional Chinese Medicine can be helpful in treating a number of ailments. One common condition that many people suffer from is an intolerance to gluten. What is gluten? It's the protein part of wheat, rye, barley, and other related grains. And for some people, gluten can be very hard to digest. When it comes in contact with the small intestine, it can create a  condition known as celiac disease, which can injure the lining of the small intestine. This injury can ultimately result in weight loss, diarrhea, gas, abdominal cramps, or vitamin and mineral deficiencies. The University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research, estimates that at least 10 million people in the US are gluten-sensitive.

For those suffering from celiac disease, TCM would first eliminate gluten from one's diet. Doing this would allow the lining of the intestine to heal. This would be followed up by some traditional Chinese herbs. While many herbs contain gluten, some are gluten free.

TCM herbs that have been used to treat celiac disease include trifoliate orange, which would address bloating and digestive upsets. Fennel seeds are also recommended, as they can help regulate digestive tract functions. And nutmeg, which can easily be added to beverages, can be beneficial as well, for it tones the small intestine. Regardless of which TCM herb you choose, you should consult a Chinese herbal practitioner to advise you on the proper dosage.

Another condition often linked to gluten intolerance is dermatitis herpetiformis, an extremely itchy rash of bumps and blisters. These usually appear on the elbows, knees, back, and buttocks. In addition to antibiotics prescribed by your medical doctor, TCM would recommend a strict gluten-free diet to help control the disease. Such a diet may even remove the need for some medications and can prevent later complications.

For those with a gluten intolerance, adopting a gluten-free diet isn't easy. It means giving up many tasty, processed, shelf-stable foods. These include fattening wheat treats like soft chocolate chip cookies, take-out pizza, and donuts. On the other hand, it also means eating more fruits and vegetables to help your body fight off many common diseases.

To complicate matters, many who have chosen a gluten free diet have discovered that the offending grains are "hidden" in many foods. This is because  food labeling  is fraught with brand names that can be misleading.  And adding insult to injury, staying gluten free can also up your grocery bill. But there is hope. Increasing numbers of health conscious shoppers have pushed the demand for gluten-free products. In 2008, more than 1,000 new gluten-free foods and beverages were introduced. So a gluten free lifestyle  is becoming increasingly tasty, less boring and hopefully less expensive. 

Those who enjoy Chinese food but still want to stay on a gluten free diet can enjoy Lo-Mein. Made with rice-stick noodles, Lo-Mein (a Chinese dish with noodles, vegetables and beef, chicken, pork, shrimp or wontons) is gluten free. That's because Lo-Mein's rice-stick noodles are made using only rice flour and water. So you get the taste without the gluten.  

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