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HealthBeat Mailbag: The Cliff’s Notes on defeating gluten, sugar and hot flashes

Anne Sarkisian, of New London, recently wrote a book, "Toxic Staple," following nearly 10 years researching and learning about the affects gluten has on people's lives and solutions like a gluten free diet.

JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff

Anne Sarkisian, of New London, recently wrote a book, "Toxic Staple," following nearly 10 years researching and learning about the affects gluten has on people's lives and solutions like a gluten free diet. JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff

Few desks at the Monitor receive more interesting mail than HealthBeat.

“Valentine’s Day is for Baby-Making,” reads one press release, promising to reveal the secrets of conceiving over the holiday weekend. (We trust you actually know how to do that already, dear readers.)

“Tips for Taming Your Winter Allergies: Cockroaches, dust mites can trigger cold-and flu-like symptoms,” read another. (After writing about lice last fall, we think we’re done with the creepy-crawlies for a while, but thanks anyway.)

Then there was “Plastic Surgery Trends 2014.”

No. Sorry, we like to keep HealthBeat real, and spectacular.

Still, we do get some intriguing offers worth sharing. Here’s a peek in the HealthBeat mail bag.

Wheat-free living

Ann Sarkisian of New London, a 71-year-old grandmother of four, recently self-published her first book, Toxic Staple, about what she sees as the many, (many, many) deleterious effects of modern wheat.

Sarkisian has been gluten-free for almost a decade now. An artist and former teacher, she began her third career as an advocate for celiac disease awareness 10 years ago, when her grandson Nick was diagnosed.

“I just started reading and reading and reading, and I couldn’t stop,” she said.

“For the past four or five years, it’s been more than a full-time job, and I consider myself lucky my husband has tolerated it. I have to be careful talking about it around my children, they’ve heard enough about gluten now,” she said.

Based on her years of research and more than 700 scientific articles (the first paragraph of the book’s introduction has four citation notes), Sarkisian claims as many as 40 percent of the American public could be sensitive to gluten, and more than 300 different ailments – from arthritis to malnutrition to infertility – could be cured by eliminating it from their diets.

In her book, she writes about living a gluten-free life: “We still eat pancakes, muffins, sandwiches with bread – it’s just a different bread,” she said.

She also writes about the four different available blood tests, including the two doctors are least likely to order – or even know about, and newly developed standards for stool testing.

The last chapter – before an appendix of online resources – details the stories of people living in their 80s and 90s with celiac disease and gluten sensitivities.

“People don’t comprehend the seriousness, and I don’t understand why they don’t get tested. It’s not snake oil,” she said.

While the disease and gluten-free menus have “become faddish,” she said, “I think anybody that does this diet who loses weight, feels better, they lose the bloat, they don’t have headaches anymore, they have great energy, they have to acknowledge why.

“I’ve read too much, talked to too many people, been to too many conferences not to see it. I have the big picture view on this.”

Sneaky sugar

Also on the HealthBeat bookshelf right now, The Sugar Smart Diet, a new book from Anne Alexander, the editorial director of Prevention.

A woman after our own hearts, Alexander writes in the introduction that she doesn’t want to “demonize sugar: You’ll have to pry Oreos cookie-n-cream ice cream from my cold, dead hands!”

What she does do in the book is outline how to conquer the efforts of the processed foods industry to insert sugar everywhere: jarred pasta sauce, frozen pizza, potato salad – the “sugarjacking of our food supply,” she calls it.

Sugar in the American diet is no longer a treat like it once was and still is in Europe, she writes. The average person in the U.S. consumes 130 pounds of added sugar every year.

The book contains a list of 40 different names for added sugar that appear on packaged-food ingredient lists, from “agave nectar” to “turbinado sugar.”

But the best part of the book may be a step-by-step, 32-day guide to cutting added sugar from your diet, crafted by dieticians, emotional-eating experts and a personal trainer at Prevention, complete with stories from 18 real people who followed the advice and lost pounds, inches and their sweet teeth (sweet tooths?).

In as little as seven days, the taste buds have the ability to acclimate to a less sweet diet, Alexander writes. When combined with that less sweet diet, moderate daily exercise can stop sugar cravings by increasing the body’s sensitivity to insulin.

That’s not to say the process is easy. Days 1 through 5 are spent analyzing and assessing your diet, exercise and mood. There are charts and forms in the book to track what you eat and when, and why: How Intense is Your Emotional Connection to Sugar?, one asks.

Days 6 through 11 of the plan are called “The Tough Love Turnaround.” No sugar – no fruit, no alcohol, no sweet potatoes, no beets. No processed grain products, white or whole wheat.

Alexander warns of headaches, fatigue, edginess and cravings and compares the process to quitting smoking.

So what can you eat? Protein. Lots of protein. And vegetables and fresh brewed green tea, which is proven to help manage long-term blood sugar levels.

Natural sugar – from fruit and whole grains – is added back into the diet slowly in later phases of the plan. There are more than 120 recipes or recommended meals and snacks.

Now that the Valentine’s Day candy is off the shelves and there may be 24 hours before the Easter candy appears to tempt our resolve, HealthBeat might start trying some of these principles out.

Hot flash helper

It’s not only books that appear in our mailbag. Oh, no. We get it all.

Including Exert, which came in a discreet, unmarked white box, but is marketed as the “smart body coolant” for women experiencing hot flashes – ahem, excuse us, “temperature spikes.”

Monitor ad rep Sherri Cote gave it a try for us.

At 44, she’s just beginning to experience “temperature spikes” that come without warning and leave her feeling uncomfortable and unpresentable, “sweaty from the inside out,” she said.

Sticking her head out the window or hovering over the oscillating fan hasn’t worked.

Exert, she said, did.

The can, which retails for $30 for a supply that lasts between 4 and 6 weeks, directs users to spray it directly onto their skin in the areas they are most likely to feel the temperature spikes.

The first day she tried it, by dinner time, she realized she hadn’t had felt hot all day.

“I just thought, ‘Oh, this is cool. It actually worked,’ ” Cote said. “You know those informercials you see on TV and you think there is no way that is going to actually work? But this worked.”

The downsides: It felt greasy, like baby oil on her skin.

“I was afraid it was going to stain my clothes, but it didn’t, and the feeling didn’t last all day, but it was enough that I started spraying it onto my hand and rubbing it on instead of spraying it on, just in case,” she said.

Even if it hadn’t appeared in the HealthBeat mailbag, she says she would be interested in purchasing it.

She’d have to order online, because according to the company web site, the closest retailer is in Providence, R.I.

So there you go, readers. That’s just a hint of what arrives on our desk every day.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

Legacy Comments1

"Faddish"."Can't talk around my children about this,they've heard enough about gluten now". It's like the person who quits drinking or smoking,GOOD LUCK.Personal choices.Consequences.Life is so very,very short.What people do regarding there choice of food,sex,everyday interest is no ones biz.Can't wait for a couple slices from Vinnies' 4 lunch!

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