There is so much confusion and mixed information regarding gluten, gluten sensitivity, celiac disease and wheat allergies among the general public as well as in the medical field. This topic always opens numerous topics and concerns but I am going to try to lay everything out for you here in really basic terms and then I will tell you my opinion. I highly encourage you to do some of your own research.
Gluten – Is a general term given to the two proteins (gliadin and glutenin) found in the grains of the wheat family. Generally speaking wheat, wheat varieties, rye, barley and triticale (a mix of wheat and rye) all contain gluten.
(image courtesy: (image courtesy: http://www.fxmedicine.com.au)
Celiac Disease – Celiac disease is a very serious genetic autoimmune disorder that attacks a persons intestines. Their small intestines to be specific. It destroys the nutrient absorbing villi that line the intestines leading to malnutrition. It is diagnosed through an intestinal sample (the most accurate test) or by a blood draw.
Gluten Sensitivity – This is when a person experiences the same or similar symptoms as a person with Celiac disease but standard tests do not show positive for Celiac disease. These people are currently not known to experience the damage to their small intestines. Often times people with this go improperly or undiagnosed
Wheat Allergy – This is a food allergy. It is an overreaction of the immune system to a specific food protein. The allergic reaction is no different then one would experience from an allergy to a medication or any other food. An allergic reaction can range in symptoms from mild (rashes, hives, itching, swelling, etc.) to severe (trouble breathing, wheezing, loss of consciousness, etc.). It should be stated that food allergy can be potentially fatal.
Intestinal Damage Associated with Celiac Disease
(image courtesy: http://www.fxmedicine.com.au)
So what is all the hype regarding gluten. Well Celiac disease is estimated to affect 1 in 100 people worldwide. 2.5 million Americans are undiagnosed and are at risk for long-term health complications¹. Estimates for the rate of gluten sensitivity range from 6 percent of the population to considerably higher. There was study of a randomized population sample of 500 people conducted by immunologist Aristo Vojdani, PhD. He found one in three people had gluten sensitivity5. The problem is that the symptoms of Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are so wide and varied, there are over 200 symptoms of Celiac disease and that list is growing, that people often don’t associate whatever ails them with gluten. They are only looking for the standard signs and ignore the less obvious signs. The stuff we deal with everyday and think is “normal”. Also when someone suffers from an inflammatory response to an allergy or intolerance for an extended period of time it can result in autoimmune diseases within the body. There is growing evidence that those with a gluten intolerance that go undiagnosed begin to show the symptoms for Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and type 1 diabetes4.
There is a direct correlation between the health of our digestion system and the function of every other system in our body, especsially the brain. When your digestive system can’t function properly our organs and tissues don’t receive the vital nutrients they need and in turn also do not function properly. Not to mention the inflammatory impact the body endures when it is fighting something it does not know how to process. What we notice is that our brain seems foggy or we are easily agitated (maybe we didn’t have enough coffee that day), or that we seem bloated and are constipated (easily PMS or too much Chinese food for dinner). Or what about that persistent acne or the weight that we can’t seem to lose? All of these seemingly common problems, that could easily be explained away are over looked as a gluten sensitivity or even Celiac disease.
So for example, someone suffers from migraines. So they go to a “head” doctor to find out what is wrong with their head. Their doctor will most likely do an MRI or CT scan to see if there are any growths or other abnormalities present. They may also do some blood test to determine if the person is fighting off any infections. The results may come back normal or they may come back abnormal and a few more test may be done only to show that nothing is really wrong. What they may not ask that person is what they had for breakfast that morning. If every morning that person has a bowl of cereal for breakfast and the by the end of the day they have a migraine they may actually be suffering from some sort of gluten intolerance or allergy, not a head problem….well thats all relative of course :-).
In children, gluten sensitivity can often show up as ADD or ADHD or behavioral issues. It can prevent children from thriving in an otherwise educational environment. It can present itself as a persistent rash or eczema, or delays in physical development, abdominal pain, constipation or aversions to certain foods. There have been a number of studies that have shown that when gluten is restricted in the diet of a child with Autism their autistic behaviors also improve.³ This is a rather controversial topic but based on my perspective of the relationship between the digestive track and brain function it makes total sense that it would benefit some children.
There is so much information out there and it can all be extremely overwhelming. Here is what I think and maybe this will help simplify it for you. Wheat/gluten is not bad. In fact wheat has a number of nutritional benefits. The problem with wheat comes into play when someone who does not have a healthy digestive system, due to years of damage from a poor diet, environmental toxins, inactivity and over consumption of this hard to digest compound consumes gluten and can not properly digest the large proteins (gluten). This damage can begin as early as childhood with high sugar – low fiber diets, and the consumption of inorganic compounds. We are seeing these symptoms in children at a younger and younger ages and it is hard to ignore the facts. I truly believe that if a person heals their gut (through proper diet and quality gut bacteria) they can again consume whole organic wheat in managed portions. One of the major contributors of gluten intolerance, in a non-Celiac individual, comes from the environmental toxins that are present on the wheat from farming methods and preservatives. So if you do go from eating a restricted diet (hopefully also low in toxins) and then try to incorporate wheat again be sure to consume only high quality, whole grain, organic products. I love a delicious piece of toasted whole grain bread with avocado (I’ll put a recipe here later!) as much as the next person but I try to make sure the ingredients are quality and easy on my body.
In my family we actually inadvertently avoid gluten. This happens for three reasons. First, we make an effort to only eat the most nutrient dense grains. These grains also happen to be naturally gluten free. Second, the majority of gluten that people are exposed to are found in highly processed foods, baked goods, French fries, pasta, salad dressing, soy sauce, cereals, soup, seasonings and breading, granola bars, beer, protein shakes and powders just to name a few. As convenient as they are, I do everything with-in my means to keep highly processed food away from my family, they offer no nutritional benefit and often times are loaded with sugar. Luckily it is becoming easier and easier to find convenient, quality food that is prepared. Third we eat a truly plant based diet, plants are also naturally gluten-free. It is impossible to eat perfectly all the time but if your gut is healthy then those times when you can’t eat perfectly won’t impact you as heavily.
What are your thoughts on gluten? Leave a comment below and let me know!
If you have any questions or you and your family want to try a gluten-free or any other elimination diet properly and nutritiously go to my website and sign up for a free consultation. I can help answer your questions and guide you through the process.