What the heck is gluten anyway, and should I eat it or not?
Gluten is a family of protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and relatives of wheat such as spelt, triticale, kamut, farro, and einkorn. Up until recently, it was thought by many that the only reason to avoid wheat products was due to a disease called “Celiacs Disease” (different than a wheat allergy), which is when the immune system reacts to wheat by causing inflammation and damage to the intestines that eventually causes other issues such as malabsorption of nutrients and ailments associated.Currently there is no cure for celiacs disease and those affected must omit all gluten from their diet for life. Signs and symptoms of celiacs disease have a broad range, but include abdominal cramps, gas, bloating, fatigue, aching bones and joints, skin rash, and even infertility. Celiacs disease is an “autoimmune disease” and causes a reaction that leads to the immune system essentially attacking itself when the gluten proteins come into contact with the cells in the intestines. You can be tested for celiacs disease and I would highly recommend it if it runs in your family.
Why are people without celiacs disease avoiding Gluten?
Recent researched has shown that people can be suffering from something called “non celiac gluten sensitivity”. This is different than celiacs but may have similar reactions in the immune system when the intestines come into contact with gluten. People who are “sensitive” to gluten may produce more zonulin, a chemical released from intestinal cells that can break down their delicate lining, leading to “leaky gut syndrome” where proteins are able to pass through the intestinal walls and the unsuspecting immune cells waiting on the other side respond by over reacting, and possibly leading to other immune systems disorders.
How do you know if you have a non celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS)?
Well, there are more symptoms than I could list in one article and some people have no symptoms for years, but, the most common symptoms are gastrointestinal pain or discomfort, headache, brain fog, joint pain, weight gain, acid reflux, numbness in the arms, legs, or fingers and skin rashes.The recent “Gluten Summit” event got together over 100, 000 doctors and patients across the world to hear from the world’s experts about new symptoms, reactions, and diseases that are related to gluten consumption to shed light on the subject. This is useful because when a doctor is “stumped”, testing for gluten sensitivity should be an option for them. Because this is a newer development, testing is still in its infancy and not yet a totally reliable tool, though I don’t think its a bad idea. If you think you have an issue ask your doctor about testing for celiacs disease, gluten sensitivities, wheat allergy, and auto immune diseases. Testing may also be a good idea because you may want blood levels that you can later compare against. When you take gluten out of the diet, the reactive chemicals in your body may no longer be present, and skew the results.
I think I may have a NCGS so what now?
In my view, if you have consulted your doctor on testing, the next step would be to test yourself with a food elimination diet. Simply put, take all the gluten containing foods out of your diet completely. This may include surprising items such as potato chips, condiments, soy sauce, lunch meats, and salad dressings, so read your labels! Many people notice a difference within days and for others it could take up to 6 months. Fortunately, there is very little risk when taking wheat and gluten containing foods out of your diet if you replace the grains with whole food starches and quality fiber such as sweet potatoes, quinoa, rice, and vegetables. Be careful when choosing “gluten free” foods because many of these foods are loaded with sugar and artificial ingredients to imitate the food that its replacing such as gluten free cookies or pasta. Gluten free does not mean healthy, and it might not even mean gluten free because of labeling laws and cross contamination. So, choose whole foods whenever possible to eliminate the chance of gluten interaction. Another issue is over the amount of “whole grains” we should have in our diet. Much of the research i have found shows the benefits of whole grains over processed grains (which we have long known are unhealthy). They don’t show any compelling evidence to be required in the diet because they don’t offer anything that can’t be obtained from other sources. Many claims for the health benefits of wheat come from fiber, which can be found in higher amounts in many plant foods such as broccoli, avocados, artichokes, legumes, and berries. It always a good idea to work with a Registered Dietitian or Nutritionist for help when making drastic changes in your diet.
So if I can’t have bread flour, cookies, pasta, bagels, and all my other favorite foods… what on earth am I going to do?
Well there is good news and bad news. Bad news first. Wheat has been found to have addictive qualities and creates an opiate like response in the brain. Getting wheat out of your diet may be challenging at first but when you ask people who have been doing it for a while, most of them say the same thing… “I don’t crave it anymore”. Just like getting off sugar, caffeine, or cigarettes, it can take some time to adjust. Get help from your R.D., nutritionist, M.D., Chiropractor, Psychiatrist, Naturopathic Doctor, Certified Gluten Practitioner, or anyone who has gone through what you are going through and can support you during transition.
Not everyone is sensitive to gluten but if you think you may be, then i hope this article helps. I have read so many accounts of people’s lives changing after finding out that gluten sensitivity was the unknown variable that their doctor couldn’t pinpoint. Testimonials are striking and link gluten to depression, schizophrenia, autism, asthma, certain types of cancer, auto immune diseases, and many more. Taking charge of your health can be one of the most liberating things you can do, and your body is one of a kind. Its ok if things don’t go exactly the same for you as they did for someone else. There are various online resources and community support groups to help you and your family on your journey.
Need a second opinion?
This is a very simplified and general article about gluten sensitivity and I highly advise that you dig into more information to see for yourself what happens to the body when our modern wheat is ingested. The book “Wheat Belly” by William Davis is the place to start in my opinion.”Grain Brain” is another great book. If you are a medical practitioner or want to deeply educate yourself on the most recent scientific findings from across the world, I would highly recommend Dr. Tom Obryan’s “Gluten Summit”, which I have referenced in this article. Also check out this site listing the top 30 online resources for people dealing with gluten sensitivities that covers things like recipes and tips for dining out. http://wp.me/p4knIu-d
If you are have having issues with food sensitivities but are not sure if gluten is the main issue, you may be interested in reading “Lose 7 pounds in 7 days” by JJ Virgin which is a food elimination diet and the claim about losing weight is in reference to your body being less inflamed when problem foods are eliminated. I have personally done this one and found it very helpful. Also you can check out “The Plan” by Lyn-Genet Recitas, another food elimination diet but more geared toward food allergies and histamine intolerance, and perhaps foods that you never thought were causing problems for you.
Good luck and check out some great sources listed below,