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Gastrointestinal problems are among the most common complaints heard by doctors today. Still, many people fail to look beyond the symptoms when seeking relief, and as a result problems can worsen over time. Knowing that roughly 80 percent of our natural immune defenses are found in the digestive tract, it is time to reconsider how we deal with digestive issues—and with that comes getting a better understanding of certain things that can affect a healthy gut.

 If you have persistent gas and bloating, abdominal pain, or chronic constipation or diarrhea, here’s something you should know: More and more Americans are finding out that sensitivity to gluten may be at the root of their problems. But is it just gluten sensitivity or is it celiac disease? And what’s the difference? The following is a brief overview:

 Gluten sensitivity is a broad term used to include many different types of sensitivity to gluten, a protein found in wheat. People who are sensitive to gluten may experience a wide range of symptoms, from mild inflammation of the intestinal lining to abdominal discomfort and occasional irritable bowel, but not everyone with gluten sensitivity develops celiac disease (those who don’t are considered Non-celiac Gluten Sensitive, or NCGS).

 However, people with gluten sensitivity may be experiencing the beginning stages of celiac disease. In essence, gluten sensitivity implies that the immune system cannot tolerate gluten in the diet. As a result, it forms protective antibodies to try to neutralize the gluten, in the same way it reacts to harmful bacteria or viruses. When these autoimmune reactions cause intestinal damage, a person is then considered to have celiac disease.

 Celiac disease is genetic and in some cases may be triggered by a traumatic physical or emotional event. More than 2 million Americans suffer from celiac disease, which can include severe abdominal pain and bloating, chronic diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, fatigue, and in some cases even severe anxiety and depression, skin problems, as well as bone and joint pain.

 The bottom line is this: If you have unexplained, persistent gastrointestinal issues and you and your doctor can’t seem to figure out why, gluten sensitivity may be the culprit. The best way to determine if you are truly gluten sensitive or if you have celiac disease is to have a simple stool test performed. Visit www.enterolab.com to find out more, and once you have the results you and your health care practitioner can take the next step toward better gastrointestinal health.

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Yup, you knew it was coming. Or even if you didn’t, you’re probably not surprised to see it. Bedbugs, it seems, are no longer just the stuff of childhood rhymes. From Cincinnati to New York to Atlanta, the tiny critters are chomping their way across the U.S., and experts remain baffled as to what triggered the sudden infestation. They worry, however, that since bedbugs spread so easily, the number of sightings will continue to rise.

So what exactly is a bedbug? They are (and a warning to the squeamish: You may want to stop reading at this point) small, parasitic insects that just happen to prefer human blood as their main source of sustenance. Members of the family Cimicidae, they are commonly referred to as “bedbugs” because, quite simply, that’s where they like to hang out—in beds, mattresses, sheets, and all sorts of snug-as-a-bug nooks and crannies where they can take cover and wait for an unsuspecting meal.

As you may have heard, a typical bedbug is about the size of an apple seed. What you may not have heard, however, is that bedbugs are essentially harmless. As insects go, they’re pretty clean. They don’t transmit any nasty diseases. And most of the time you wouldn’t even know if you were bitten by one. Still, there’s a hidden health threat associated with bedbugs that may come as a surprise to a lot of folks: toxins.

Back in the 40s and 50s the standard response to a bedbug infestation was a nifty little thing called DDT. You know, the synthetic pesticide banned by the EPA for its not-so-pleasant effects on the environment and human health? The problem is, those highly toxic chemicals seem to be the only thing that works on the almighty bedbug (think Superman vs. kryptonite), and despite our best efforts to come up with an environmentally friendly (not to mention human-health friendly) way to send the bloodsucking bugs packing, the end result will almost always involve chemical treatment.

Still, there are preventative measures you can take to keep bedbugs at bay, like taking fewer trips overseas, always checking hotel room bedding and mattresses, and keeping your own home (especially the bedrooms) clean and free of clutter. If you suspect bedbugs are present—common signs are blood/fecal stains on bed linens and tiny brown exoskeletons left behind when bedbugs shed their skin—do a thorough cleaning. Wash and dry all clothes and bedding on high heat, check dresser drawers and other bedbug-friendly spaces, and be sure to vacuum every possible crevice. Then, call in the kryptonite.

And that brings us back to toxins. The government may have banned DDT, but thousands more chemicals moved in to take its place, and today there is just no escaping the reality that no matter where we live our bodies are exposed to countless toxins that can contribute to poor health and disease. The key is to take a proactive stance when it comes to fighting back—one that includes reducing our daily exposure by choosing natural over synthetic products whenever possible, eating organically grown meats and produce, and cleansing regularly with a natural herbal detox program. Small steps, yes, but they can have a big impact—not unlike our tiny friend the bedbug.

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