Do you know someone who has gone gluten-free? Odds are, you do. Gluten-free (GF) living is all the rage, but few know exactly what it is and how it impacts our bodies.
Let’s clear up the confusion here – after all, it’s quite simple really. After years of research and observing thousands of patients that feel better without gluten (not to mention myself, too!), I am happy to shed light on the mystery of gluten and explain how it can cause stress in your body.
What Is Gluten and Why Is it Bad for You?
Gluten is the protein aspect of certain grains, including wheat, barley, rye, and spelt. When you eat these grains, or foods containing them, you are eating gluten.
The most common foods containing it are bread, pasta, pizza crust, bagels, cookies, and pastries. So you can see, it is quite easy to be exposed to it every day – and even every meal.
The simple truth is that humans cannot digest gluten. That said, we can consume foods that we can’t digest—similar to how we consume but cannot digest fiber and beans. In small quantities, this is usually not an issue.
The problem comes into play when we consume large amounts of gluten (in every meal, for example) and especially if we have a genetic tendency to react to it. Here’s what happens: undigested proteins from gluten (also known as gliadin and glutenin) get noticed by the immune system in our gut, triggering an inflammatory response that can spread throughout the body.
Negative Health Consequences of Gluten
Gluten causes leaky gut (called intestinal permeability in scientific terms), an issue in which the cells lining the intestines – and the spaces between them – are damaged, allowing undigested food to leak through and trigger inflammatory responses while decreasing absorption of nutrients.
Leaky gut has been associated with chronic health issues such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, liver disease, neurological issues (like migraines, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s), autoimmune conditions (such as Hashimoto’s, rheumatoid arthritis, MS, and others), women’s health issues (including PCOS), and cancer.
Then, there’s celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disease in which further damage to the intestines due to immune responses to gluten can cause severe and life-threatening health issues. 1 in 133 people have developed celiac disease already, by some estimates. That’s over 2 million people in the U.S – and most of them have no idea.
Even if you don’t have celiac disease, at least 1 in 4 people develop what is now known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). NCGS is associated with a number of health issues varying from fatigue and IBS to depression, anxiety, migraines, and PMS. The effective treatment for both celiac disease and NCGS is the avoidance of gluten.
How Does It Cause Stress on the Body?
Once the intestines start reacting to gluten due to leaky gut, it is exponentially more likely that the immune system will start reacting to other foods. This most often happens with dairy proteins (casein and whey), eggs, potato, soy, and other grains (rice, millet, and corn) – because they too will leak through the intestinal lining.
At this point, a person is often hit by digestive symptoms no matter what they eat. And they might experience fatigue, sleep issues, mood changes, skin rashes, frequent infections, thyroid issues, and in some cases, autoimmunity.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that gluten and leaky gut do NOT always cause digestive issues. In fact, studies show that at least 50% of people do not have digestive issues when they react to gluten. Instead, they are more likely to experience neurological symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, headaches, and insomnia.
It’s in More Foods than You Think
In addition to the common places we find gluten, it can also be found hidden in many other foods because it helps to thicken liquids and allows things to stick together. It can also create a chewy and/or fluffy texture. This is why it is used in soups (even miso soup), gravy, dressings, sauces, pastries, cookies, cakes, soufflés, pasta, cereals, and breads.
It also hides in products you wouldn’t think of based on their chewiness. Soy sauce, for example, contains gluten – so be sure to choose the GF alternative called tamari sauce. Sometimes, other condiments, like mustard, ketchup, and BBQ sauce, may also contain it as well. Then there are flavored chips and crackers. Even corn chips, if they are spicy or flavored in any way, may well include flour and/or wheat in their ingredients lists. The same goes for anything seasoned such as spice mixes (taco mix, for example) or anything containing modified food starch (even chewing gum).
In 2013 the FDA defined “gluten-free” as containing less than 20 ppm of gluten. Companies had until August of 2014 to comply with the rule. So look for the words “gluten-free” on labels, and, I would say, also review the ingredients of products you are thinking of purchasing to make sure all the ingredients are, in fact, free of gluten.
Identifying a Gluten Intolerance
As mentioned before, 1 in 4 people have a gluten sensitivity – so it’s quite possible, if not likely, that you have one.
Some indications include tiredness, anxiety, depressed mood, insomnia, bloating, IBS, eczema, allergies, sinus infections, headaches, and low thyroid function. Even hormone imbalances – such as PMS, PCOS, and unexplained infertility – have been tied to an intolerance.
Currently, research indicates that the best way to determine whether you have gluten sensitivity is to remove gluten from your diet for at least three weeks (however, in some cases, it could require six months of elimination) and then reintroduce it to determine whether symptoms occur or return.
Another option is to test for IgG and IgA antibodies, which can be done with as little as a finger prick. The trouble is, that most practitioners don’t offer this panel or may not be familiar with the relevance of the results. You can order a test kit here to do at home and find out if your immune system is reacting to gluten and 95 other foods.
Conclusion: Is Gluten Bad for You?
While many people question whether going GF is a fad, I would say that it is actually a much overdue awareness for the trouble that it causes for our bodies. The exposure to gluten in the human diet, and more specifically, the American diet, has increased in the past 50 years. It is only recently that researchers and practitioners have realized the number of cases that could benefit from a GF diet. Previously it could take decades for patients to find out that gluten was an underlying cause of their distress.
I encourage you to find out for yourself whether gluten is contributing to your health issues and then make the necessary diet changes to eliminate it from your diet. It could make all the difference in your health.
If you wish to learn more about a GF lifestyle:
- Please read (and share!) my Basics of Gluten posts: http://bit.ly/gluten-basics
- Or read my book, The Stress Remedy: http://thestressremedy.com (which includes 150+ GF recipes!)
- Dr. Doni’s Leaky Gut and Digestive Solutions Package. Comes with a free copy of The Stress Remedy!
- I’ve been helping people recover from leaky gut for over 18 years. Let me help you identify your specific food sensitivities – and any imbalances in your gut bacteria as well. Once we find out the problem, I will help you make changes your diet. We’ll do it gently, so it’s not a shock to the system.
And I’d LOVE to invite you to join me on a FREE webinar Thursday, November 21st for more tips and Q&A about avoiding gluten during the holidays.
I’d love to help you be successful with steering clear of gluten so that you can feel your best.
Hope this is helpful to you – please reach out with any questions you might have.
Wellness wishes to you!
13th November 2019
This article by Dr. Doni Wilson was originally published on Inspiyr.com.
*Please keep in mind that any and all supplements—nutrients, herbs, enzymes, or other—should be used with caution. My recommendation is that you seek the care of a naturopathic doctor (with a doctorate degree from a federally-accredited program) and that you have a primary care physician or practitioner whom you can contact to help you with individual dosing and protocols. If you ever experience negative symptoms after taking a product, stop taking it immediately and contact your doctor right away.