People - including myself - love wheat-based foods. And why wouldn’t we? Foods like these include bread, cereal and pasta (yum!)
But have you ever had any of these foods and experienced symptoms like tummy-aches or bloating? If you have, you’re not alone. There is a rise in the number of people who experience side-effects from gluten-bases allergies (or celiac disease), and other autoimmune conditions.
So, why is this bad-boy of the food world causing so much trouble? And how did the trouble begin? Let’s take a bite out of this topic and explore why you should pay attention to gluten-based foods.
What is gluten?
To be fair, I don’t think gluten is bad. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye based foods like bread, cereal and pasta. It’s a binding agent that helps give wheat foods elasticity, shape, and chewy texture.
Its function in plants is to help store nutrients for reproduction to help nurture and grow the next generation of plants. See? It’s not bad at all.
More recent developments in agriculture, however, have made wheat-based plants stronger and more resilient to adverse conditions, altering the makeup and role of gluten. This mutation, happening faster than mother nature intended, has made gluten a tough cookie to swallow for many people.
Why should gluten be on your food radar?
There are two main types of gluten-intolerance that can be found in people: wheat allergies, also called Celiac disease, and non-Celiac gluten sensitivity.
Symptoms from gluten-intolerance can be minor, such as bloating or constipation, or much more severe, such as headaches, mood disorders, brain-fog, and even depression. For people living with Celiac disease - approximately 1% of the population - the body's reactions to eating gluten can be especially severe and can cause damage to the lining of the small intestine.
Even people who don’t suffer from wheat allergies or celiac disease can still experience symptoms after consuming foods containing gluten. Around 12% of the population have reported digestive symptoms after eating foods with gluten.
What’s more, gluten sensitivity symptoms may appear two days after your consumption of gluten, so without a complete elimination or food sensitivity testing, it is almost impossible to correlate if your symptoms are related to gluten you’ve eaten.
Why is gluten insensitivity becoming more and more common?
We’ve already mentioned one reason gluten intolerance is becoming more and more common, but there are other factors contributing to this occurrence as well.
Here’s some other causes contributing to the rise in gluten intolerance:
The rise in use of antibiotics - another modern advancement - has damaged natural gut flora or dysbiosis, weakening our body’s natural ability to absorb and process gluten. Our immune system may then see the undigested gluten particles as microbial invaders and attack them.
According to some scientists, a cleaner and more sterile environment over the past 50 years has knocked our natural defense antibodies off-track. This has led to an overreaction on our body’s behalf to foods that should be harmless (think wheat and peanut allergies).
Our fascination with diets and fads has led to vitamin deficient people. Diet’s interfere with the body’s natural processes, leading to a suppression of our immune system.
Diseases are a combination of genetics and environmental factors and such is the case with gluten-intolerance. Some people are much more prone to this than others.
How may gluten affect the body?
Let’s talk about how gluten affects our natural digestive process. For one, the digestive system in our bodies absorbs nutrients from the foods we consume while eliminating excess as waste.
Most of the absorption of these key nutrients happens within our large and small intestines, which have tiny gaps between the cells known as tight junctions that allow the regulation of substances entering our bloodstream and other organs.
Gluten, however, can interfere with this process and lead to what is known as “intestinal permeability,” also known as leaky gut syndrome. This widens the tight junctions and allows substances and organisms in the gut - some of which may be toxic or harmful bacterium - to leak into the bloodstream thus leading to widespread inflammation.
I know, it doesn't sound too good, does it? Intestinal permeability has been associated with autoimmune conditions, including type 1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, and inflammatory skin disorders.
Approximately 1% of the world’s populations suffers from Celiac disease, a hereditary autoimmune disease that is a serious form of gluten intolerance.
Side effects from gluten can cause people with Celiac disease to experience severe diarrhea, stomach pain, excessive gas, and skin rashes.
Over time, it can cause damage to the intestines, which impairs its ability to absorb certain nutrients.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity
Some people test negative for Celiac disease but still react to gluten. This is referred to as non-celiac gluten sensitivity. There’s currently no clinical method of diagnosing if you are sensitive to gluten, although if you react negatively to gluten and your symptoms are relieved with a gluten-free diet, you probably have it.
Remember the tight junctions found in the small intestine? Well, those openings - the ones that allow nutrients to be absorbed by the bloodstream - are regulated by a protein called Zonulin. The presence of gluten activates zonulin to open the tight junctions, and that’s why excess gluten in your body can lead to gut permeability (leaky gut syndrome).
Thankfully, functional lab tests can check the levels of zonulin in your body, often indicating whether or not you may be sensitive to gluten and leaky-gut. Testing is not fool-proof as there may be other factors affecting your levels, but it’s a great start to figuring out if gluten is best left out of your diet.
Are you ready to explore more?
If you suffer from gut discomfort or any other symptoms I’ve listed in this article, contact me and check how you can find the root-cause to your health conditions, release the stress it causes your body and heal your body.