The Truth About Gluten

So, what’s the big deal about wheat and gluten, anyway? Why is it the hot item to eliminate from our diets? Gluten is blamed for a multitude of problems: bloating, diarrhea, brain fog, gas, and fatigue. Gluten is touted as being evil by causing inflammation and a variety of medical problems. Wheat isn’t produced the way it used to be produced making it plain old bad for you and harder for it to be tolerated. People profess to feel better once they remove gluten from their diets.

Let me explain why gluten can be a problem in real terms.

My story

Like most athletes, I was a glutton for gluten. Back in early 2000, I ate bagel galore; they were a daily staple in my diet. I would also eat sandwiches on bread. I filled myself with burritos made with flour tortillas and I regularly indulged in pasta with garlic and olive oil (mmmm).

I was an athlete with a busy schedule and these foods were easy, quick, and filling – the food trifecta. But, here was the problem. I also had a consistently bad stomach, where gas, bloating, and nausea were daily problems. I just soldiered on, however, eating my usual diet, not drawing the connection between my food choice of gluten and the stomach issues.

Finally, one day my friend, who is a naturopath, suggested that I run through an elimination diet. This entailed removing common food allergens, including gluten, dairy, corn, soy, as well as alcohol, caffeine and sugar. I felt amazing!! I had energy, my stomach felt better, and I was sleeping great.

I then went through the reintroduction phase and soon started to get stomach pains again. The two foods that stood out were wheat and dairy. I then had a blood test that confirmed that I had antibodies to both. I later had more tests that confirmed I had celiac. I’m one of a small percent that has celiac disease (although this disease is rising) but more and more are realizing they have an issue with gluten, whether is celiac, gluten intolerance (which is a real and very uncomfortable intolerance), or simply that they feel better without it.

The Truth About Gluten

Why does ingesting gluten have such a negative effect on some people? Let’s first look at the digestive system. When the food you eat gets broken down, the nutrients are absorbed in your small intestine. The nutrients are let through by something called tight junctions, which are the “gateways” between the cells along your intestinal lining. The tight junctions are aptly named, because they are so tight that only the smallest, most bioavailable particles get through.

Tight Junctions of a Small Intestine

Gluten encourages the release of a substance called zonulin. When there is more zonulin than your intestinal walls can reabsorb it breaks down those tight junctions, loosening them, causing “leaky gut”.(1) This is the condition where larger nutrient particles can get through the compromised tight junctions and into your blood stream. This can cause a whole chain reaction in your body including: bloating, brain fog, general and systemic inflammation, headaches, and possible “switching on” of genetic variants such as Celiac. This is because those particles are not recognized by your immune system and it goes into defense mode. Most of us think of either Celiac disease or gluten intolerance when it comes to the notion of gluten sensitivity, but there are over fifty-five diseases that have been linked to gluten!

Not everyone has noticeable reactions. Most have some reaction, but have a system that quickly clears the build-up of zonulin so they don’t even realize that they had an issue. Many though, are on a spectrum going from somewhat sensitive all the way to those with autoimmunity such as Celiac disease. And of those with a more pronounced sensitivity or full on Celiac, only about 1% are correctly diagnosed.

If you are unsure as to whether you have an issue with gluten, or any other food for that matter, you may consider eliminating it from your diet for 3 or more weeks. It is best to seek help in going through this process in order to fully understand the steps and what to expect. Taking gluten out of your diet may seem like a daunting task, but with the correct guidance you will get through it and see the benefits.

If you’d like to seek help with this please free to contact me.

(1) Fasano, A. (2012). Leaky gut and autoimmune diseases. Clinical reviews in allergy & immunology, 42(1), 71-78.

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