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Gluten free: Medical condition or lifestyle choice?


Gluten FreeSix months after the birth of her third son, Bambi Sturgeon just didn’t feel right.
   The Severna Park resident wasn’t bouncing back like she did after her first two pregnancies. She also had a strange feeling throughout her body.
   “It felt like my hands and feet were swollen, and my extremities ached,” she says. “And I was tired. But I had three little boys. Who wouldn’t be tired?”
   For years, Sturgeon battled aches and fatigue. Doctors tested her for everything from rheumatoid arthritis to Lyme disease but nothing came back positive.
   “Really, I had no answers,” she says. “But at that point, I wasn’t even sure what the question was.”
   In 1996, 8 years after her symptoms started, Sturgeon finally found her answer: celiac disease, a genetic disorder affecting children and adults.

   People with celiac disease cannot tolerate foods with gluten—a protein in wheat, rye, and barley.
   “I remember thinking…that can’t be right,” Sturgeon says. “I don’t have stomach issues.”
   But celiac disease, along with other gluten-related disorders such as gluten sensitivity, can affect more than just the stomach. Symptoms range from diarrhea and abdominal pain to weakness and fatigue.
   Researchers are learning more every day about celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, says Dr. Alessio Fasano, medical director of the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research in Baltimore (Update: In January 2013, the center moved to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston). There are also more gluten-free products available than ever before, thanks to awareness and demand.
   Still, mysteries remain around this controversial protein and its effects.
   “What happened to these people?” Fasano says. “What happened to make them lose this luxury of digesting gluten?”

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