Where am I and why am I not writing?

So, why haven’t I updated my blog regularly this month?

Good question, and the answer is: I have been sick. First with some sort of cold, then with some sort of virus, and this week I was glutinated by something. I don’t know what. When I’m sick I don’t write coherently, and I don’t want to cook or take photos of my food. I’m just grumpy and you don’t want to be anywhere near me!

Previously I mentioned that I didn’t get intestinal distress from gluten, just the rash. Well, apparently being gluten-free for the last while has changed that fact. Not only did my stomach revolt but I had a severe, severe, severe headache for 2 days straight (you try using a microscope and counting chromosome aberrations all day long with a headache. Its not pleasant).

Now that my stomach is better, the dermatitis herpetiformis has again erupted with gusto all over my elbows, knees, scalp, back of the neck and in the scar I have on my right cheek. I’ve had to wrap my elbows in bandages just so I cannot scratch because my new insane short term goal in life is to scratch off all 30 layers of dead cells on my elbows and destroy the underlying basal lamina. Will this result in permanent scarring? Hell yeah, but at least I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that I stuck it to the man! Or rather, my elbows. My knees are also itchy, but since it snowed AGAIN last night I will be wearing jeans again today, and its really hard to scratch knees while wearing jeans. I am going to work, and I should maintain some sort of decency. Plus its a biology lab, and not wearing pants in a little dangerous.

And no, I don’t know what I ate. This makes the whole situation even worse.

Any road, as previously mentioned it snowed again last night. So I must go clean off my car and get to work. Hopefully I won’t feel like mud and I’ll be back to the kitchen soon. I’m getting a little tired of Lara bars. But not the cherry pie Lara Bar *bliss*.

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Celiac disease and intestinal parasites

Last week I wrote a post about the latest research in celiac disease. Today I received a comment about that that post from Kristina:

“I just read your summary of the latest CD research and am wondering what your thoughts are on this- my fiance and I lived in Nicaragua for two years. I drank water from the tap, from wells, whatever, no intestinal parasites, no giardia, no nothing for the entire time- whereas he (a non-celiac) was sick all the time (and he was careful about boiling his water). Our theory is that being a celiac, I have some sort of protection against amoebas and what not. What do you think?”

I thought this was extremely interesting. I wrote her back:

“I think that its possible that celiac protected you, but celiac disease is not the only explanation for your lack of tummy troubles. Consider:

— Many parasites would need something to latch onto in order to grow and inflict disease. If your intestines were not healed, there might not have been enough villi for the parasite to create a home, thus your illness may have prevented another illness.
— your digestive system may also have developed a unique way of dealing with changes to the intestine because of your celiac. Its amazing how your body will work around problems. Perhaps your unique work around helped you say healthy
— your stomach might have been sick, but you’re so used to feeling sick that you didn’t actually notice being ill. Your boyfriend who hasn’t had years of illness would never have experienced this type of feeling and therefore extra sensitive to the problem

— However —

– there is the possibility that you may never have actually ingested a live parasite. The incidence of parasites are actually quite low, its just the few that float about in the water are really good at causing disease and you usually only need one to get sick. Statistically you might have been lucky.
— you may have done a better job of disinfecting the water you drank than your boyfriend. My boyfriend is lazy and impatient — there is no question in my mind that he would have made himself sick!
— you may have genes coding for super parasite killing proteins or cycles that genetically pre-dispose you to survive parasitic attack.
— your stomach acid may be stronger than your boyfriend’s and you killed the parasites before they actually invaded your intestines.”

I also told her I’d do some digging to discover the real scoop. Here’s what I discovered:

Behera et al. Dig Dis Sci. 2008 Mar;53(3):672-9.

“The pathogenic parasites detected in (celiac) adults were Giardia lamblia 12 (24%), E. histolytica / dispar 5 (10%), Ancylostoma duodenale 4 (8%), H. nana 2 (4%) and Cyclospora cayetanensis 1 (2%). The pathogenic parasites detected in children with malabsorption syndrome were Giardia lamblia 8 (16%), Cryptosporidium 7 (14%), E. histolytica / dispar 3 (6%), Ancylostoma duodenale 3 (6%), Isospora belli 1 (2%), and H. nana 1 (2%). None of the stool samples from healthy controls were positive for Cryptosporidium spp., Cyclospora and Isospora belli. All the patients infected with intestinal coccidia were HIV sero-negative. Conclusion: Celiac disease is the most common cause of malabsorption syndrome in both adults and children. These people harbour significantly more pathogenic parasites and are more frequently colonized with harmless commensals as compared to healthy controls.”

I also found a study that suggests that the T cells that cause the villi to flatten in celiac disease are not the same T cells that flatten the lining in a giardia infection. Same symptoms, different pathway.

Unfortunately, that is all of the evidence I could find. This does not lead us to any conclusion, but it does give us another hypothesis to explain why Kristina was not ill — Kristina may have already had a giardia infection! If the numbers in this study are statistically correct, she has a 24% chance of being infected with giardia as I type. In fact, if the stats are correct, I have a 24% chance of being infected as I type! There is also a chance she has another intestinal parasite that was not allowing the parasites from Nicaragua settle.

I would like to point out that the study was small, and that the statistics might be much higher or lower than 24%.

This whole thing brings home something I’ve already said — I really have to get my microfora back in order! This can easily be accomplished through diet and by taking high quality probiotics on a regular basis. Please note that yogurt, cheese and other foods containing probiotics are NOT good probiotics.

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Gluten-free?

 

I have no idea where this photo came from. It was emailed to me. Made me giggle. I guess Mark Bittman does know how to cook everything!

 

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Why don’t people listen?

Now, I’m not bothered by people bringing in gluten filled desserts to share with co-workers. To be honest it gives me a medical excuse to say no to food that I really shouldn’t be eating anyway.

But I’m really, really fed up with having to repeat myself. \Every other day I have a conversation similar to the following:

  • Co-worker who has been told I’m a celiac at least a handful of times: “Shauna, why don’t you try a cookie/cake/samosa?”

  • Me: “Thank-you but I can’t. They do look delicious”

  • Co-worker: “Sure you can, they don’t have that many calories!”

  • Me: “I have celiac disease. I cannot eat anything containing gluten.”

  • Somebody else in the lunchroom “Do samosas/cakes/cookies contain gluten? Are you sure? I thought it was only bread and pasta that contained gluten”

  • Me: “I’m pretty sure your cake/cookie/samosa was made with wheat flour. All wheat flours contain gluten”

    Co-worker who brought homemade goodies “But I used white flour, not whole wheat!”

  • Me: “Actually, on a volume to volume basis, white flour has more gluten than whole wheat because the bran in whole wheat takes up room that would otherwise be taken up by the endosperm. But that really doesn’t matter as I really can’t eat even a milligram of wheat flour. Thank-you for offering me your baked goods”

At this point I try to sneak away to avoid more insanity.

I’m a biologist. I work with biologists. They must understand basic immunology and protein biochemistry. Why do I have to explain myself? WHY!

Its even worse if I bring in a sandwich on GF bread. I inevitably get somebody saying “AH HA! I caught you! You said you couldn’t eat bread and you are clearly eating a sandwich” which brings up the whole “No, I said I couldn’t eat gluten, which is in wheat, rye, spelt and barley. This bread is made out of (insert gluten-free flours of your choice here)”

*sigh*

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A warning about turkey gravy

Just so we are all on the same page: if you mix too much cornstarch in with your turkey drippings, you will get a gravy that is closer in consistency to smooth porridge. Perhaps I can use this to spackle my bathtub. Gluten-free, turkey and sage flavoured spackle.

Other than that disaster, my turkey dinner shaped up well.

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Latest Research On Celiac Disease

For those of you who are unaware, I am a biologist. Because of this I frequently read the latest scientific research papers on subjects of interest. Being a celiac, I am obviously interested in the latest developments in celiac research. While I know I cannot explain a lot of the research in layman’s terms (sorry, too much jargon) I can still let you guys know some interesting facts about celiacs you may not have known. If you have questions just ask. If you want sources, I have listed them at the end, just click the “read more >>” link.

  1. The lining of the small intesting in celiacs is inherently different in comparison to the lining of non-celiacs. Even if the disease is not active, the proteins in the intestinal lining have a different set and formation of carbohydrates (sugars). These sugars known form what is known as a glycosylation pattern on the surface of the intestine and are responsible for interaction with many body functions, which means that the interaction with other body functions and the intestinal cell wall is different between celiacs and non-celiacs. Exactly what this means is not yet known.
  2. All humans have bacteria in their intestines which help them digest and metabolize certain foods and nutrients. Celiacs have more rod shaped bacteria in their gut than non-celiacs. They have a different bacterial flora than non-celiacs. This difference is still evident even after being on a long-term gluten-free diet. I am definetly continuing my regimen of probiotics (BioK all the way).
  3. There is a hypothesis that the immune system in the intestine of celiacs have a hard time discriminating between pathogens and benificial particles (i.e. gluten peptides) which suggests that gluten might be mistaken as a pathogen. Although not proven, there is strong evidence to suggest that this hypothesis is correct.
  4. A group of researchers have determined that some non-human primates (apes/monkeys) are also celiacs. Specifically they found a group of rhesus macaques that displayed celiac like symptoms, including production of anti-gliaden antibodies, when they were fed gluten. The researchers suggest that these macaques could prove useful in further celiac studies.

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Advanced label reading

For those of you with celiac, gluten-intolerance or any other food allergy, you are probably very good at reading food product labels. Reading labels is a necessity. I firmly believe that you are what you eat — junk in equals junk out.

What most people don’t realize is that the other additives to our food come from a host of other “interesting” sources. I learnt a lot of these sources while working as a lab technician n the development department of one of Canada’s largest bread manufacturers (which I won’t name, but if you’re from Canada you know I’m talking about one of two companies).

Here is a list of some of the food additives, their sources and why you find them in your food. I’ll start with xanthan gum, because as a celiac it is in most of our recipes. Then I’ll continue with some of the other interesting additives. You’ll be surprised what you eat on a regular basis.

xanthan gum: is a polysaccharide (also known as a complex sugar or a carbohydrate) that changes the rheology (elasticity, plasticity and fluid mechanics) of food. Specifically it is known for increasing the viscosity of liquid, that is, it makes liquid thick. It is produced through a fermentation process, similar to making alcohol (wine, beer) except you don’t use yeast to ferment sugar, you use the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris. What you MUST remember about this additive is that the more you manipulate the xanthan gum, the more it will sheer. This is why you should NEVER kneed gluten-free bread dough. NEVER! If you want perfect gluten-free bread, mix the dough until it is uniform and then stop. I guarantee you’ll have a better bread product. In sauces and dressing xanthan gum acts as an emulsifier (keeps the oil and water components from separating). You can be allergic to xanthan gum, its symptoms are very similar to the intestinal problems associated with celiac — bloating, diarrhoea, gas. You can also be allergic to the corn that is used in the fermentation process to produce the gum.

Carmine: is also known as Crimson Lake, Cochineal, Natural Red 4, C.I. 75470 or E120. A less pure variety is known as cochineal extract. Any of these words may appear on a package. Other words that might be used instead of these are “added colour”, “natural colour” or sometimes “artificial colour” because carmine is actually a bright red pigment. It is considered a natural additive because it is produced from a natural source — the crushed shells of cochineal insects. Examples of food that contains carmine are: Yoplait strawberry yogurt, Tropicana grapefruit juice, campari, maraschino cherries, and pink lemonade. Yum. It is perfectly safe to eat — insects are a little disgusting looking, but they are not poison. Most Jewish councils do not allow this in kosher foods.

Shellac: also known as confectioner’s glaze, food glaze, resinous glaze or pharmaceutical glaze. This additive makes your food shiny and pretty. Found in many dessert type items. It is made from the resinous secretion of Kerria lacca, otherwise known as the lac beetle. Some Jewish councils consider this additive kosher.

L-cysteine: is an additive is a common additive used to make food flavours and aids in baking bread as it softens the texture and reduces processing time. Technically L-cysteine is just an amino acid, and its not an essential one – humans can make it all on their own. However, people who are quite young, old or have malabsorption syndromes may need to supplement this amino acid. So you may think: why is it such a big deal that they add an amino acid to my food? Well, the cheapest, easiest and most common method to get food-grade cysteine to break the disulfide bonds in hair’s keratin. It works best if you use straight hair (more L-cysteine) and that is why the majority of the world’s cysteine comes from plants in China where they hydrolyse human hair. I would like to strongly point out that this is NOT an urban legend, this fact can be found in many, many food science books worldwide. You’ll be happy to know that China banned the making of soy sauce from human hair in 2001. All of this brings new meaning to the phrase “Waiter! There is a hair in my soup!” — as an aside, a German company has now begun to manufacture this amino acid using non-animal sources — this is still an expensive process, and the manufacture from human hair is still common.

Rennet: Used to make cheese, curd or junket. Natural rennet is produced from the inner mucosa of the fourth stomach of nursing bovines. Usually a bi-product of veal production. There are other natural replacements for rennet, but many traditional cheeses are still made using rennet. Vegetarians, or those trying to eat vegetarian meals should watch out for cheeses made using rennet.

Well, thats it for now. There are many other additives made from animals, insects and bacteria but these are the ones I thought were the most interesting. Especially the L-cysteine.

ENJOY!

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