“Gluten free” – we hear it all the time these days, and some think it is simply a fad. I beg to differ. What some may not understand is that 1 in 133 people in the US are in fact highly sensitive to gluten and have been diagnosed with Celiac disease.
People who experience an adverse reaction to gluten but are not diagnosed with celiac disease may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, also called “gluten sensitivity.” With this condition, the problems caused by gluten are not thought to be as extensive as in celiac disease, but for both conditions the only treatment for relief is a gluten-free diet. Common reactions to a celiac sensitivity may include brain fog/mental fatigue, gas, bloating, constipation, abdominal pain, headache, and general fatigue. Those people with gluten sensitivity will experience relief from these symptoms when they remove all gluten from their diet.
See, the reason gluten-free foods exist in today’s market is because 1) not all foods are created equal, and 2) gluten isn’t what it once was years ago. In order to have the faster growing and drought resistant wheat we have today, it has been hybridized. This is what is now causing inflammation and intolerance of gluten. The wheat that we find today has been deamidated (deamidation is a chemical reaction in which an amide functional group in the side chain of the amino acids: asparagine or glutamine, is removed or converted to another functional group, according to the encyclopedia). This allows wheat to be water soluble and therefore is mixed into packaged food that we know all too well is not the best option when choosing between a bright-colors organic vegetable and a boxed meal or snack.
To better understand the process: when one ingests gluten, an enzyme found in our intestinal wall called tissue transglutaminase breaks down the gluten into the building blocks, gliadin and glutenin. As these make their way through the digestive system, then the immune system located in your gut (GALT) checks each piece for potential harmful ‘attackers’. For those with a gluten sensitivity (which is most of us today due to things like hybridization and deamidation mentioned above), GALT identifies gliadin as harmful and produces protective antibodies to attack it.
Just as our immune system does when a virus enters our body. The important thing to take away here is that these antibodies don’t just attack the gliadin, they actually also attack the intestinal wall (which is what originally broke down the gluten into the two building blocks in the beginning). One of the most important jobs that our intestinal wall does is holds the microvilli in our gut. Our bodies collect nutrients by absorbing them through the intestinal wall, and microvilli help with this process. When the protective antibodies produced to defend the gliadin, accidentally also attack the intestinal wall, microvilli can erode, which 1) decreases the ability to absorb nutrients, and 2) causes the walls of your intestines to become leaky. This is where the digestive issues such as bloating, constipation, and malnutrition can occur. This is what we call ‘leaky gut’ – where toxins, undigested food particles, and microbes escape from your intestines and travel throughout your body in the bloodstream! This can cause the antibodies to attack other organs and systems (they are lost and confused)...you can see how this can eventually weaken the entire body, as potential toxins are now in the bloodstream.
If you believe that you may have a gluten sensitivity (or a chronic disease such as Celiac), it is important to contact your doctor to get tested.
Wondering if you should go gluten free to see how it makes you feel? Of course, eating gluten-free makes sense for anyone diagnosed with Celiac Disease, or a significant sensitivity to gluten. However, for the individuals who gluten does not seem to bother, you may be wondering what the benefits are. Some report feeling better after reducing their intake of gluten-containing products, such as reduced brain fog, common allergies, and increased energy levels. It is important to note that a food labeled as “gluten-free” isn’t necessarily always the healthier option. Gluten-free products can still be high in calories, fat, sugar and carbohydrates, and some products contain fillers that may not be the best alternatives to say, real, whole foods. This is why it is so important to read nutritional labels and ingredient lists.
If you have a hard time understanding ingredient lists and labels, or if you are interested in going gluten-free but don't know where to start...please reach out to me! That is exactly what I am here for.