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Recognizing Wheat Allergy

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Not to be confused with celiac disease, which is a permanent adverse reaction to gluten requiring a lifelong restriction of the substance, wheat allergy is not a disease but rather an Immunoglobulin (IgE)-mediated response to wheat protein. IgE is a type of protein, called a food-specific antibody, which fights against specific types of food. This protein circulates through the blood. Quite often an individual’s immune system will form IgE against certain foods if allergies are common in the family.

Unlike celiac disease, which is a lifelong condition, in many cases an individual with wheat allergy will “outgrow” the condition—especially children.

Wheat Allergy Symptoms

Allergic reactions to wheat may occur within a few minutes of consuming or inhaling wheat, up to a few hours. Some common symptoms include skin irritations, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting or respiratory irritation.

Wheat Allergy Effects On Overall Health

Because wheat is considered one of the healthiest and most important crops in the world, wheat allergy sufferers run the risk of missing out on many vital nutrients offered by wheat in its natural, unrefined state including: vitamin B1, B2, B3, E, folic acid, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, iron, and fiber. In addition, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, wheat offers several other important benefits. Studies show that:

•    Women who eat whole grains typically weigh less
•    Whole grains reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome
•    Whole grains help prevent gallstones
•    Whole grains substantially lower Type 2 diabetes
•    Because of the fiber content in wheat, it also has a mildly laxative effect which helps to keep you regular

Other benefits to wheat may both affect pre-menopausal and post-menopausal women. A study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology found that a diet rich in fiber from whole grains, such a whole wheat (and fruit) offered notable protection against breast cancer for pre-menopausal women.

A 3-year study published in the American Heart Journal showed that post-menopausal women with high blood pressure, high cholesterol or other signs of cardiovascular disease who ate whole grains at least 6 times a week experienced slowed progression of atherosclerosis and less progression in stenosis.

Atherosclerosis (ath"er-o-skleh-RO'sis) is the hardening and narrowing of the arteries and stenosis (ste nossiss) is narrowing of the carotid arteries.

Wheat Allergy Diagnosis

Before making the decision to eliminate wheat from your diet, it is important to obtain a solid diagnosis by a doctor. There are several ways to diagnose wheat allergy: clinical evaluation (food, family and medical history); along with tests such as radioallergosorbent (RAST). A RAST or “CAP RAST” is a simple blood test that involves taking a small blood sample from the individual and sending it to a laboratory for testing. Wheat allergy can also be diagnosed through a skin prick test (SPT).

A skin prick test involves entails placing a small amount of the suspected allergen on the skin and making a small “prick” through the substance on the skin. A positive reaction occurs when the skin becomes itchy, then red and swollen with a "weal" in the center. This indicates that the individual is in fact allergic, but the size of the weal does not reveal the severity of the allergy.

While all methods of testing are pretty effective, one of the most reliable methods of testing is “elimination-challenge testing.” This type of testing should only be used for non-life threatening allergies.

Elimination-challenge testing, also referred to as “Elimination Provocation Testing,” takes place over the course of 2-3 weeks. Patients will typically visit the doctor twice, fill out several health questionnaires and the individual will completely eliminate allergenic foods from the diet during the testing period. After allergy related symptoms improve, suspected foods are added back into the diet slowly (one at a time), to determine which foods provoke symptoms.

Wheat Allergy Treatment

Because wheat is a staple food product in just about every diet around the globe, it can be extremely difficult to avoid completely. More importantly, finding other sources for the nutrients provided by wheat can be challenging as well, especially in certain parts of the country (and the world) where health food stores are unheard of and Internet access is scarce. In these situations, simply do your best to avoid products containing wheat by arming yourself with information, meaning knowing which products contain wheat and knowing all of the possible alternatives. For those seeking professional help, treatment is typically supervised by a dietician, which can help to ensure that the individual will follow a diet rich with B vitamins, calcium, zinc, etc.

Recognizing Wheat

It helps to become a label detective and to know the different types of foods that may also contain wheat protein. For example, soy sauce, starch, hydrolyzed vegetable protein and natural flavoring may indicate the presence of wheat. Other more obvious sources of wheat include: bran, bread crumbs, cereal extract, couscous, cracker meal, vital gluten, whole wheat flour, enriched flour, high-gluten and high-protein flour and anything that starts with “wheat” such as wheat germ, malt and starch.

Wheat Alternatives

Depending on the severity of the wheat allergy, there are several alternatives to wheat and one that is possibly even healthier than wheat. Amaranth, buckwheat (not a wheat relative), bean flour, kamut, nut meal and spelt are all healthy alternatives to wheat, but one of the healthiest foods on the planet is also considered an excellent alternative to wheat—quinoa. While quinoa is considered a grain, it is believed that this ancient food is more closely related to leafy green vegetables such as spinach.

Quinoa is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids. It is also rich with magnesium, manganese, iron, copper, phosphorous and B2. Quinoa is available at all health food stores and can be purchased online as well.