Gluten sensitivity and my new favorite bakers

I’ve been gluten-free for over three years now, and without getting up on my soap box, I know it is a diet that works for me. I used to suffer from all sorts of digestive issues; cramping, bloating, irritability. I would always complain about how my stomach hurt, how I felt fat and gassy, how I felt uncomfortable. In fact, I tried all sorts of other things, including going vegetarian for two years, and what my friend calls a pseudo-gluten-free diet (I ate gluten free-ish, minus beer, when I was in New Zealand… turns out, that is not a gluten free diet whatsoever). Anyway, nothing made me feel better, until my boyfriend’s mother recommended I try out the strict gluten-free thing. She has Celiac disease, and so does her mother and daughter. I am lucky to have a super-supportive boyfriend who, although testing negative to the genetic assays for Celiac disease, threw out his gluten-full pizza and donuts in favor of sharing the same diet as me.
One of the things I have come to appreciate is the ever-expanding market for gluten free goods today. Three years ago, it wasn’t difficult, per se, but it wasn’t as easy as it is now. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like twenty years ago.  While the gluten free diet is more expensive than the regular run-of-the-mill diet that includes Wonder bread and Ramen noodles, it does encourage a follower to cook more for themselves, and to learn to love the kitchen. While rice and veggies are a staple in my diet, I am still able to enjoy my lifelong favorite foods, like spaghetti (Tinkyada makes the best gluten-free spaghetti noodles I’ve ever had), peanut butter and jelly (thanks to Larabar), and the best bagels I’ve ever had (gluten free or not) from Against the Grain. Sure, I cut back on grains because spending $7 for a loaf of bread is redonkulous, but it helps me to appreciate the (gluten free) grains when I have them.
My new favorite bakers:
Since moving to St Louis, I have found a few awesome places that cater to the gluten-free folk, and I feel even luckier to have come across a local gluten-free bakery (Free Range Cookies) that distributes their goods all over the metro-STL area. Free Range, if you haven’t already tried it, has the best gluten free baked goods I’ve ever had straight from the source. The owner, Linda Daniels, is a cute, peppy young woman who is seriously on top of her game. I was introduced to FRC because I saw the cocoa crinkle cookies at Kaldi’s, and when I saw they were made in Ferguson, I knew I had to take the hike up there. Granted, it’s not that far from where I live (maybe a 20min drive), and it was totally worth going to the cute town of Ferguson to check out the shop.

Free Range had several different samples to try, and I felt like I could have skipped lunch before going there. I stocked up on all sorts of gluten free goodies, including baguettes (which are doughy on the inside and crispy on the outside, just like gluten-FULL bread is. I don’t know how she does it…), more cookies (I got the almond quinoa and more cocoa crinkles), and even cupcakes. She had all sorts of non-cookie fare, including focaccia, burger buns, and pizza crusts. I couldn’t buy everything, but I did dish out for some biscotti because I love the Free Range chocolate chip biscotti.
Also, a friend of mine recently started a gluten-free diet because she was also having some GI dilemmas, and I feel like the luckiest person in the world. She made a few dozen Girl Scout Samoas, gluten free of course, and Baberaham brought them down this past weekend. Ho.ly.crap. They are so good. Crumbly shortbread cookie covered in chocolate, with a sweet coconut sugary ring on top. I felt like I had gone back in time to when I would eat Girl Scout cookies, only I am pretty sure these things were better than the “real” thing! They were bigger, too. So, good on you Sam, for jumping head first into the gluten free lifestyle. You are doing a great job, and I am so proud of you!
And, in the news:
Recently, the Wall Street Journal shared an interesting study from BMC Medicine about gluten sensitivity, wheat allergy, and gluten intolerance. The article discusses how gluten sensitivity and Celiac disease differs, and it sheds light on different symptoms and classifications of the two disorders. Using gut permeability assays, histology of gut biopsies, and mucosal gene expression, differences between Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity were discovered.
What does this mean? Well, besides the obvious (gluten free diet recommendations for gluten reactivity across the board), there may also be slightly varying ways of treating people with gluten sensitivities. While Celiac disease can be considered an autoimmune disorder, which is now easier to detect based on serological tests for common antibodies, gluten sensitivity is much more difficult to diagnose. When people ask me: “How did you know you needed to be on a gluten free diet? Did you get tested?”, I tell them I just gave up gluten and simply felt better. Even if I had been tested, I may have turned up negative for Celiac disease.  But to me, following the gluten free diet made my GI symptoms go away, and that is what mattered the most. This new article in BMC Medicine attempts to uncover whether there may be other ways of diagnosing gluten-reactive disorders, even those that were otherwise considered ambiguous, like gluten sensitivity. There may be a difference between sensitivity (perhaps an innate response) and Celiac (likely an adaptive response), and there may also be potential for the development of molecular diagnostics that can help us to clinically assess each individual issue. Or, the patient can just try the diet, and see if it works. Some people need the answers, and that’s where a study like this can help get us there.

courtesy of WSJ.com

Toeing the line again…

I’m doing it. I’m pulling the trigger.

It’s time for another race. I feel recovered from the FullRev at Cedar Point, and I want back in the game. Dare I say, that I had such great success on that day, I don’t want to fall off my (almost) winning streak.

So I’m getting back into the race mentality. I’ve got to plan out my nutrition, get a good night’s sleep, dial it in.

It’s not the typical race, though.  No, there will be no ribbon at the finish line. Putting in the time in training now will hopefully mean an easier, less effort day come race time. There are no bike pumps or wetsuits or aero helmets or disc wheels allowed here. If I flat, I’m on my own. My transitions need to be quick and well executed, that’s just free time. I’m not worried about what shoes to wear on the long run; I’m more concerned with how I’ll get to the home stretch. It’s no longer about the gear, it’s about what’s in my head.  I won’t be greeted by enthusiastic aid station volunteers at the 11th hour, when the pain cave  is closing in around me. But I know there’s going to be that light at the end of the tunnel…

One foot in front of the other, or in this case- one word after the next. The race is on, and my dissertation won’t write itself. I’m looking forward to this taper in particular…

Special shout-out to these fab folks for helping me get through this challenge: Baberaham (for cooking me real food among other incredibly helpful things), Mom’n’Dad (obviously), Peace Coffee (how else can I function?), Saucony and Lucy Activewear (because wearing athletic clothes to work is AOK in my book when it looks this good), Sharpie and my Trakkers gang (for not calling me crazy[to my face]), and the oh-so-convenient Halloween candy from ShopKo (nuff said).

Michigan’s Graduate Education Day 2010

This week, I traveled to Michigan’s capitol to talk with legislators about my graduate education and research. Three other graduate students from Michigan Tech joined me on the long trek to Lansing (Michael Brodeur-Campbell of Lake Linden, Mich. – PhD in chemical engineering; Melanie Kueber, Munising, Mich.-  PhD in civil engineering; and Christopher Morgan of Jenison, Mich., PhD in mechanical engineering-engineering mechanics). We met up with the dean of Michigan Tech’s Graduate School, Dr Jacqueline Huntoon. Luckily, we had Jacque Smith with us to lead the charge and take care of all the very important details of the event for us.

Graduate Education Day, as proclaimed by Governor Jennifer Granholm, is an event which is part of Graduate Education Week. More than 70 graduate students from around the state join together and presented their research and graduate experiences to legislators, the public, and other graduate students.

“To attract and grow quality jobs, we must have the best trained, best educated work force,” Gov. Jennifer Granholm said during her Feb. 3 State of the State address. The event was presented by the Michigan Council of Graduate Deans, and was an incredible opportunity for us as graduate students to connect with other students from different fields of study from many other universities around the state. It was also a great chance for me to get to know other graduate students from my own school from other departments (by spending over 18hours in the van with them!), and hear about their graduate experiences and research.

I was given the opportunity to meet with my hometown representative, Kate Ebli, of 56th District (Monroe County), who received her MBA from Oakland University after working in industry for several years. She is an incredibly nice woman with great insight into the importance of graduate education. It was fun chatting with her about Monroe, and the future developments that they hope to see in Southeastern Michigan related to energy and sustainability.

What do we get out of Graduate Education Day? I think the biggest thing was the awareness that it creates regarding the importance of pursuing a graduate education and the necessity for maintaining and encouraging students to follow that path. Kate Ebli mentioned that it’s practically necessity to pursue a graduate degree nowadays. Opportunities in graduate education from other Michigan schools were presented, and discourses into how different fields can collaborate and advance both science and rhetoric were engaged.

For Michael Brodeur-Campbell, it was the first time he had visited the capitol. “I think that’s valuable,” he told me. ” I think being politically engaged is important.  I got to see some different research going on in Michigan, learned about a few colleges and programs that I didn’t know about.  (Graduate Education Day) did some good for increasing the visibility and value of graduate studies in the state.”

Why is graduate school important? For me, it offers the opportunity to learn, grow, and build on the ever-expanding knowledge base of the field I am so passionate about. I have realized that I am capable of contributing to science and research, and I continually desire to do so. All Miss-America quotes aside, I want to make the world a better place, and I have fortunately found a way of doing so through my research and studies. No matter how miniscule I feel that my contributions are at times (and it’s more times than not), I find confidence when my research is successful, when someone pats me on the back and tells me ‘good job’, or someone offers constructive criticism that makes my research stronger.

Brodeur-Campbell agrees. “Graduate research is important to me primarily because I want to make a career in research. Frankly I’m a chemistry geek and I love playing with solutions and beakers, and getting a Ph.D. is how I turn that into a job.  But more importantly, I do it because I enjoy it, I’m good at it, and I think that it’s how I can make my greatest contribution to society with my work.  And then I found out that I get all these unexpected opportunities to learn and experience things I never would have considered on my own, and that’s like the icing on the cake.”

Graduate education is a key to a prosperous future for Michigan. Many of our students are working on solutions to real-world problems. These solutions will have an immediate benefit to society and have the potential to positively impact our state’s economy as well.
–Jacqueline Huntoon, dean of the Graduate School at Michigan Tech

Is graduate education important to you?

Below are some of the posters that the Michigan Tech students, including myself, presented at Graduate Education Day.

Cool tools for my fellow Science Geeks out there

As I wonder and plunder through my third year of grad school, I get a breath of confidence every once in a while that I may graduate in the near future (and then proceed to be hammered back to shore by the waves of reality). Last spring, I focused my efforts to get to research-only mode so that my advisor could save money on tuition and I could make an extra $250 a semester in stipend. Trust me, that $250 was significant. Recently, however, I started thinking about the next step: the Post Doc.

Currently, I’m putting the pieces of my doctoral puzzle together, in the form of a dissertation (it’s in its initial stages, known as The Outline). It gets me starting to wonder what lies ahead. Seriously, I know that jobs are few and far between, and being in school for so long might put me in a position to be “over-educated and underpaid”. So the best strategy to tackle my next-phase step is to ask: What is it that I want to do with my life? Since I ask myself this question every time I fill out a fellowship application or write an essay entitled “What it is that I want to do with my life”- I should really know the answer. But the truth is, what exactly I want to do with my life next is dependent on what exact opportunities are available when I defend my dissertation and move on from the graduate school lifestyle. Having flexibility, exploring new areas of science, and continuing to learn and expand my horizons, now that is what I want to do with my life!

Since I know that I want to go into academia, the next step is to look for a post-doc or a teaching position. I know that I love doing research and I love learning, so let’s say my next step is the Post-Doc.

I’ve recently discovered RePORTER from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Formerly known as CRISP, RePORTER is a new and updated version, used to find out who has been awarded a grant (or grants) from the NIH recently (updated weekly), what research they were awarded money for, and how long their grant money will be there. Want to know how much the faculty in your department were awarded last year? Type in their name. For me, I’m planning on scoping out potential laboratories that sound cool and checking if the PI (primary investigator) have money to support research. If you are a pre-doctoral life sciences student and you want to try and get funded without a graduate teaching fellowship, one option is to apply for the Ruth Kirschtein-NRSA Pre-Doctoral Fellowship through the NIH. In order to be awarded this, one must first establish a relationship with an NIH-funded faculty (ding ding ding! Use RePORTER to find these faculty). It beats going door-to-door and asking.

RePORTER is really neat, too. I tried searching for PI’s in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin who have received money from NIAMS (National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases). It was really interesting to see who was doing what research in my region! RePORTER can be used to navigate through all different search procedures, like Funding Mechanism (training grant, SBIR, research projects, etc), Award Type, State, and organization (such as university). Now you can find out who has what kind of money, because it will list the award cost, too!

Every researcher in bio-based science should know about PubMed. It’s an online database for compiling manuscripts that have been accepted to peer-reviewed journals. Depending on your university or library, you may not be able to access all the manuscripts listed on PubMed without paying a fee, but most medical schools and universities have Free-Access permissions (and if that doesn’t work, try to Interlibrary-Loan an article you can’t seem to access). The most important thing about research is knowing what has already been done, and what needs to be done next. Reading about what others are doing, and staying on top of the literature, is key! I use PubMed practically every day to try and find new articles or articles I may have missed, especially while preparing manuscripts for submission (and preparing my dissertation, too!).

Remember when you had to write papers for school, and you had to use references and form a bibliography at the end?

Please tell me you don't just cite Wikipedia!?!?

EndNote is a really awesome tool that helps make writing papers a whole heck-of-a-lot easier. First, take all those journal articles you have stacked up on your desk. Second, enter in the title, author, journal name, etc. into EndNote. Hit save. Type your paper like you normally would, and when it comes time to enter a citation, click on the paper in your EndNote database, click insert, and voila! You have an automated bibliography. If you are planning on submitting the paper to a peer reviewed journal, you can change the format of the citations and bibliography even after you drafted the entire paper. Simply change the reference format and it automatically changes all your citations. Sooo much easier than going in one-by-one on your paper. Plus, you don’t have to worry if you are using annotated, alphabetized, or numbered citations. It’s all automatic. Makes grad school survivable, anyway!!

And for a fun tool that I like to play around with on the interwebs sometimes, I bring you Wolfram|Alpha. It’s a pretty slick resource, from the makers of Mathematica, that compiles data and interprets user-input search cues to get results. It’s much more advanced than Google (in fact, its not really like Google at all), and more dense with information than an encyclopedia. For a little bit of fun, you can try this game:  Type in your birthday (day, month, year), and see what other important things in history happened on that day. Or, type in your name, and see something like this:

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Other cool (and more useful) tools with Wolfram|Alpha are:

  • job/degree searches (This is especially useful for high schoolers and college kids trying to decide what it is exactly they want to study; compare occupations and see the growth/decline of the jobs of interest)
  • compare cities (looking at jobs all over the US? type in the cities of interest and compare population, temperature, elevation, surrounding areas)
  • find a gene or protein sequence (ok, maybe a little too nerd-core for some people, but I got really geeked when I typed in “aggrecan” and got back the protein sequence, 3-D image, and atomic structure of the backbone of proteoglycans! Goooh!)
  • find out about a material and its properties (I retrieved the Young’s Modulus and density of aluminum just like that! Useful for all those kiddies in Mechanics of Materials! *snap*)