Why You Should Go Gluten Free
A common question I get is “Should I remove gluten from my diet?” Nutrition should be done on a personalized basis, but I want to go over some general information on gluten, how it can affect the body, and why and who should consider going gluten free.
First…What is Gluten?
Gluten is a family of proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye. Glutenin and gliadin are the two primary proteins found in these grains and many foods. These products include breads, rolls, crackers, baked goods, and pizza dough, where the gluten acts like a ‘glue’ to hold the flour together. It is also found in many personal care items such as cosmetics, shampoos, and lipsticks. On its own, gluten is not a harmful substance. The problem occurs when the body mistakenly recognizes gluten as a foreign substance and launches a systemic attack against it.
Gluten Allergy, Intolerance or Sensitivity?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which the body recognizes gluten as a foreign invader and acts out against it. In the process, however, healthy cells lining the walls of the small intestine sustain damage which inhibits the body’s ability to properly absorb nutrients from food.
A gluten allergy is somewhat different because it can be triggered by proteins other than gluten. The body’s response, however, is very similar – it launches an attack against the foreign substance by producing immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies while other tissues in the body send out chemical messengers alerting the body to the threat.
Somewhere along the spectrum between celiac disease and gluten allergy lies non-celiac gluten sensitivity. This term is not clearly defined by the medical community and there is no clear diagnosis or set of symptoms. Gluten intolerance is thought to be a more severe form of this sensitivity and may result in immune system activity and the resulting side effects, though not to the same degree of severity as an allergy or autoimmune disorder.
Gluten sensitivity can affect any organ system in the body and cause various physical and psychological symptoms. Many people test negative for celiac disease but still have reactions to gluten that resolve on a gluten-free diet.
More and more people are sensitive to gluten & wheat than ever before, because of the way it is processed in the U.S. in addition to the chemicals & inflammatory ingredients it is combined with.
Evolution of Wheat?
Wheat and gluten products are not what they once used to be. Since the evolution of technology and our farming techniques, wheat has been genetically modified and now has an extremely high gluten content compared to the wheat of the past. Many additives and artificial ingredients, preservatives etc. are added to the wheat and their products, further increasing it’s danger to our health.
Why? Because it is so processed and chemically altered, our bodies don’t recognize it as real food!
So it sets off that immune reaction, causing stress and internal inflammation, which shows up as those symptoms; not only digestive issues, but other signs like brain fog, joint and muscle pain, chronic skin issues etc. Wheat proteins also mimic other proteins in the body, such as thyroid hormone, and can eventually lead to or exacerbate thyroid function!
As wheat and our food supply has changed, the prevalence of chronic illness has increased dramatically . The prevalence of autism, mental and mood disorders, depression and overall chronic disease has skyrocketed in the last few decades. We HAVE to change what we are eating!
Inflammation and Leaky Gut
In order to understand why gluten is a problem for so many of us, it is important to understand the connection between gluten, inflammation and leaky gut.
Gluten-containing foods cause an inflammatory reaction and increased levels of a protein called zonulin. As zonulin rises, the tight junctions between intestinal cells opens up creating a gap between them. Think of a row of bricks (cells) lined up next to each other and the mortar holding them together is now gone (the gap).This is commonly referred to as intestinal permeability, or leaky gut.
Once you have a leaky gut, your problems become exponentially worse.
Along with viruses, toxins, and pathogenic bacteria, gluten is now capable of getting through your gut’s barrier and into your bloodstream. These ‘foreign invaders’ in our blood causes the immune system to become over-activated and inflammation ensues. Worse than that, the immune system can get so overwhelmed that it gets confused and starts attacking your own tissue, leading to autoimmune diseases!
It is important to note that individuals with any sort of gluten sensitivity do not always experience gastrointestinal symptoms. In fact, research shows that gluten sensitivity can manifest in neurological issues. Brain fog, trouble focusing decreased memory function, certain mood disorders, neurological conditions and neurodevelopmental disorders have all been linked to gluten.
The symptoms of gluten sensitivity are extremely varied and just some include: gastrointestinal symptoms (diarrhea, constipation, bloating, excess gas, abdominal pain), brain fog, fatigue, skin issues, respiratory problems, and even troubles with your metabolism and weight loss resistance.
What We Can Do
It’s clear that gluten is creating widespread health problems in our society. An elimination diet in which gluten is removed from the diet can be highly beneficial and something I recommend to patients in practice who I suspect have a sensitivity or suffering from those symptoms above. Many who try this are surprised to find that a whole host of symptoms clear up when gluten is removed!
Here is another resource from IFM that goes over the effects of gluten:
Are you interested in trying a gluten free diet and need help with your nutrition?
Are you also struggling with health conditions, have symptoms that have been brushed off, or are you looking to find out WHY you’re having issues to begin with? I can help!
I’d love to work with you to set your goals, timeline and what that first step will be to get started. Through a comprehensive functional medicine based lens, I will create you a personalized health & wellness plan that will help you achieve your goals and more. Myself and my nutritionist and health coach Allison are here to help guide you through your health journey & support you every step of the way.
Contact me below to setup a consultation or session with me!