Everywhere I turn these days there are discussions going on about gluten. More and more people are being diagnosed with celiac disease, the most well-known form of gluten sensitivity (currently affecting about 1 % of the US population, or over 3 million people). It is estimated that as many as 35 million Americans may be choosing to go gluten free, some for a diagnosed sensitivity, many for weight loss or other health benefits. The gluten-free food industry is a nearly $4.2 billion/year industry, and many restaurants now have gluten-free options on their menus. Why has this become such a hot topic?
What is gluten?
Gluten, found in several grains, is composed of two proteins, gliadin and glutelin. Gluten is derived from the Latin word for glue because it is what gives bread dough its stickiness and elasticity. Gluten is found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt, kamut and triticale, a hybrid of rye and wheat. While gluten is the name that most of us are familiar with, it is actually the protein gliadin that is largely responsible for the health problems that can be experienced when sensitive people eat gluten-containing foods.Other grains, such as oats, rice, and corn, while they do not contain gluten, contain proteins that may cross-react with gluten and also cause health problems in sensitive individuals.
Why is gluten surfacing as such a problem now?
Since humans evolved from hunter-gatherers to cultivators of food about 10,000 years ago, wheat has been considered a staple of the diet. If we were eating one of the earlier forms of wheat, we might not be experiencing as many gluten-related health problems as we are. Today’s wheat, however, barely resembles the wheat that was first cultivated; it has undergone much hybridization and alteration over the millennia. Most wheat today contains much more gluten than the original cultivated wheat known as Einkorn wheat. In his book Brain Grain Dr. David Perlmutter states that much wheat now contain 40 times more gluten than earlier forms of wheat. When processed, wheat flour (whether it be white or whole wheat) used in mass-produced foods, such as breads, pasta, and dry cereals, contains not only gluten, but a host of other toxic, indigestible ingredients as well. Many people eat these foods three times daily or more. The simple fact is our diet has been over-saturated with gluten and our bodies are rebelling by becoming ill.
What are the effects of gluten?
Gluten can trigger autoimmune reactions, tissue destruction, and loss of function in nearly every organ in the body. The most well known form of gluten sensitivity is Celiac disease, or gluten enteropathy, which manifests as a host of problems: diarrhea, nutrient malabsorption, constipation, short stature, weight loss, irritable bowel syndrome, and colitis.
It is a major misconception to think that the only serious form of gluten sensitivity is celiac disease. Gluten can cross-react with many tissues in the body, leading to the production of antibodies that attack the target tissue(s). Here are a few organs and tissues that can be affected by gluten along with the associated diagnoses:
- Thyroid: autoimmune or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- Joints: rheumatoid arthritis
- Brain: Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease
- Nerves of the extremities: peripheral neuropathy
A whole host of other conditions, such as osteoporosis, anemia, seizure disorders, migraines, myopathies, mental illness, and autism, can be related to ingesting gluten. Anyone with a chronic disease that has no satisfactory explanation for why it has occurred should consider exploring gluten sensitivity as a possible cause.
What should you do?
Get informed: The week of Nov. 11 to Nov. 17, 2013 the first Gluten eSummit will be held. This FREE educational seminar will be available ONLINE, simply by registering. You will have an opportunity to hear 29 of the world’s top gluten experts discuss the ramifications of ingesting gluten. Register here to participate. The lectures will be archived and available for purchase after the event. Good books to read include Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis and Grain Brain by Dr. David Perlmutter.
Lab tests: If you have any of the conditions mentioned in this article, or any chronic disease for that matter, consider getting tested for gluten sensitivity. Choosing the right test can be complex, as a variety of tests (saliva, stool, blood, and urine) are available. It is important to know that while positive tests are usually diagnostic, negative tests do not necessarily rule out gluten sensitivity as the cause of your health issues. At TIMC we offer a variety of testing options and can advise you on what tests will be most helpful in diagnosing your condition.
Diet changes: An inexpensive “test” is simply going on a gluten free diet. This effort can be “diagnostic,” especially if you’ve had inconclusive or negative lab tests. When eating gluten free, I do not recommend eating a lot of processed substitute products. Whether it be gluten containing or not, too many cookies, muffins, breads, crackers, and pizzas are not healthy for us. Eating whole foods such as meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, seeds and nuts is the way to go. A great way to start a gluten free lifestyle is to go through our 4-week Detox 360 Program, which teaches you how to live gluten-free and also includes a course of supplements and homepathics to strengthen and assist your organs of detoxification (liver, lymphatics, kidneys and GI tract).
Include your children: There is mounting evidence that gluten contributes to a variety of problems in children, such as ADHD, autism, and even type I diabetes, especially if gluten-containing foods are introduced early in life. I recommend that all children remain gluten-free until they are one year old, at a minimum. It is preferable to keep children gluten-free until their two-year molars are in. If your children are eating gluten-containing foods, watch for the sometimes subtle (and often not-s0-subtle) signs of gluten sensitivity, including irritability, attention and behavioral problems, and mood changes that appear after meals containing common gluten foods like bread, pasta, cereal or pizza dough. If your child has intestinal problems such as constipation, diarrhea, or non-specific belly pain, there is at least a 1 in 5 chance that gluten is causing the problem.
I have studied the issues related to gluten extensively, including completing a certificate program on gluten-related health problems offered by Dr. Tom O’Bryan at www.TheDr.com. My studies have convinced me to live a gluten-free lifestyle. I want to protect my body and brain, and live a healthy life as I age. The lifestyle changes are well worth the effort: I feel good, I have lots of energy, my weight is normal, and I take no prescription medications. I hope you will participate in the Gluten eSummit and read the recommended books. Perhaps what you learn will encourage you to join me in this health-sustaining lifestyle.