My own experience with gluten
Recently I posted an article (see my blog) about my personal experience with giving up gluten after being diagnosed with Non-Coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). I have always suffered with bloating, foggy head, achy joints and sometimes, poor memory. Being on a pretty healthy diet, with little gluten anyway (being a nutritional therapist), I didn’t felt I could be on the “coeliac spectrum”.
Well, I have been on a gluten-free diet for almost 12 months and I have, as many who dare to give up on gluten, experienced some great improvements to my health and wellbeing; no bloating, no fuzzy head, great concentration, and I have even lost some weight (not that I need to!) and if I by accident or pure laziness do consume gluten occasionally, my body does shout out, and very loud!
I had a client ringing me one day, desperate to see me and before we agreed on the date of her first session, she asked me whether I am one of the practitioners who makes their patients go gluten and dairy free…. I took a deep breath and said: “Often yes, and I will explain you why”…. She hung up.
But we have always eaten bread!
So what is all the fuss about gluten? We all eat it on regular basis – in our toast or morning cereals, in a sandwich for our lunch or as a pasta for dinner – we love it and could not live life without it!
There has, however, been a great deal of research in the last few years, and gluten is now thought to be the number one cause of health issues and food sensitivities.
Is gluten the cause of your health problems? It very well could be. Should you and your family be eliminating it from your diet?
What is gluten?
Gluten is the family of proteins that are found in most grains. There’s gluten in rice, gluten in corn, even gluten in quinoa. They are not bad for you unless you are allergic to this type of protein. The family of proteins that have the most research done and that are known to be literally “toxic” to humans are found in wheat, rye and barley.
So what is the problem with gluten, why is it so damaging to our health?
- According to Tom O’Bryan at TheDr.com, a renowned expert on Coeliac Disease and Non-Coeliac Gluten Sensitivity, the problem with these toxic families of gluten is that the human body cannot digest them efficiently. They literally behave like abrasive glue, causing damage to the delicate lining of our intestines.
- We consume far too much of it. It is now believed that 50% of our calories come from grains! As already mentioned, gluten is in bread, breakfast cereals and pasta. Gluten is in your chips, in your soya sauce, in your ketchup, soup, sausage, deli meat. The shocking truth is that gluten is not only found in our food, you might be consuming gluten when you brush your teeth, shampoo your hair, put make-up on your face or take your medication or supplements.
- In order to create hardier strains of wheat through the process called hybridization, the content of gluten has gone up by over 50% in the last 50 years. For our bodies to adjust in such a short period of time is it just one step too far, too fast.
- Gluten not only damages our intestinal lining, it also causes systemic inflammation. Gluten triggers production of a substance called “zonulin”. Zonulin causes the tight intestinal lining (barrier) to become permeable (leaky), which allows partially digested food (and not only food) to leak through into your blood stream. Your immune system sees these undigested proteins as a foreign substances, villains, and begins to attack them. This is what we call inflammatory response (inflammation). Low grade, chronic inflammation is thought to be one of the most common factors in the development of chronic and degenerative diseases of the 21st century. Inflammatory reactions can affect any part of our body, usually the one that has some kind of weakness and it can be our joints, our skin, our thyroid, or even our brain. Coeliac disease, which is characterised by damage to the intestinal lining, or as we call it, total villous atrophy, affects less than 1% of the population, compared to gluten sensitivity, with a whopping 30% of people being affected, according to some statistics (and, it is thought, that it may be much more).
It would be very misleading to say, that every condition is caused by gluten sensitivity and everyone should go gluten-free. However, it is clear that many conditions may be caused by gluten sensitivity.
So how would you know that gluten is a problem for you?
Most people would expect their symptoms to occur within their digestive tract. Unfortunately Gluten sensitivity, as well as Coeliac disease can affect nearly every tissue in the body, including the brain, skin, endocrine system, stomach, liver, blood vessels, muscles. The list of symptoms is very long and it is now believed that as much as 50 different diseases have been linked to gluten. These range from schizophrenia and epilepsy, to Type 1 diabetes, osteoporosis, dermatitis, psoriasis, Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and peripheral neuropathy. Because the range of symptoms associated with gluten sensitivity is so broad and nonspecific (e.g. they can be attributed to any number of conditions), many patients and doctors don’t suspect gluten may be the cause.
What about testing?
Although tests are available, most are far from being accurate, so the best test is your body. Try an elimination diet for 30 days and see if you feel better, then reintroduce gluten back to your diet, and see if your symptoms return, that’s your best test.
Alternatively, you can contact an experienced practitioner such as myself who can organise a laboratory test, such one from Cyrex Laboratories, which offers both a saliva test and a more comprehensive blood test which screens for all of the wheat and gluten proteins.
So why would you eat anything that our bodies can’t really digest and causes inflammation? We live in such an inflamed society already.
“Ok, I understand the danger of gluten, I will only buy gluten free products now!”
Ooh, not so fast! Never mind the plethora of gluten-free products on the market. As gluten-free living becomes a fashion, these “healthy foods” really aren’t healthy at all. They are often laden with salt, preservatives, sugar, additives, dyes and other, often GMO (genetically modified) grains, some of which “mimic” gluten, i.e. they have a similar structure to gluten and people often react to them as well. These include corn, oats, soy, millet, rice and quinoa.
So what shall I eat then!
Instead of spending money on very often very over-priced gluten-free products in the supermarket, go for foods that are naturally gluten-free, such as fish, meat, eggs, fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds.
I understand eating breakfast cereals, toast or quick pasta dish is convenient, it is an easy, cheap, completely hassle-free form of meal. But isn’t this convenience leading to health issues from a very early age? Wouldn’t you rather spare five more minutes of your time to whisk some scrambled eggs, make a srir-fry, omelette or a smoothie? Children usually soon recognise the health improvements in themselves such as increased energy, better concentration and behaviour, so why don’t you start by slowly introducing different ideas for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and you will see that the whole family will benefit.
See the list of gluten-free products on Tom O’Bryan’s website: http://thedr.com/products-page/.
Are you concerned about possible gluten sensitivity? Are you or any of your family members experiencing any new or recurrent health issue that may not have been resolved by your GP? Do you feel there is just something not right with your health although your tests results are negative?
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Tags: autoimmunity, Celiac disease, digestive issues, gluten, gluten-free, inflammation, leaky gut, Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS), Zonulin