A 2013 survey shows that one third of Americans are actively trying to eliminate gluten from their diets.
Gluten causes gut inflammation in at least 80% of the population and another 30% of the population develops antibodies against gluten proteins in the gut. Furthermore, 99% of the population has the genetic potential to develop antibodies against gluten. Antibodies acting in the gut can actually be good news, because when the body doesn’t react against gluten right away, gluten proteins can enter the blood stream more easily, especially if the gut is already leaky, and trigger immune reaction elsewhere in the body.
Since gliadin, the main problem causing gluten protein, can be similar in structure to other proteins found in tissues of such organs as the thyroid or the pancreas, antibodies against gliadin can end up attacking those organs and ultimately cause autoimmune diseases like hypothyroidism and type 1 diabetes.
Gluten’s inflammatory effect in the gut causes intestinal cells to die prematurely and causes oxidation on those cells. This effect creates a leaky gut and a leaky gut can allow bacterial proteins and other toxic compounds to get in the blood stream, which can also lead to autoimmune attacks on the body. A leaky gut also means that food as not digested properly and nutrients are not absorbed fully, which can lead to nutrient deficiencies.
Antibodies against gluten have also been shown to attack heart tissues and cause heart disease. Gluten has been strongly associated with cancer. It is potentially cancer causing, but at least cancer promoting.
Wheat germ agglutinin (WGA)
WGA, like gluten, irritates and causes premature cell death in the gut and leads to a leaky gut condition, with all the detrimental effects that are known to follow. WGA also disrupts the mucus membrane in the gut, which can cause bacterial overgrowth and lead to a host of digestive issues like GERD and ulcers. The lectin also often ends up circulating in the body and in the brain, where it can cause leptin resistance and cause effects similar to insulin. Those two factors could be a cause or promoter of obesity as leptin and insulin are the two most important hormones to properly regulate in order to maintain a normal weight and energy balance.
WGA and another unknown factor in wheat cause vitamin D stores to deplete abnormally fast and can therefore lead to vitamin D deficiency, with all its accompanying issues like weakening of the bones, a weakened immune system and a vulnerability to infectious diseases and bacterial attacks.
Gluten Sensitivity is Much More Common Then Celiac Disease
You don’t need to have full-blown celiac disease to have adverse reactions to gluten. There is another disorder called gluten sensitivity (or gluten intolerance), which is much more common. Although there is no clear definition of gluten sensitivity, it basically means having some sort of adverse reaction to gluten and an improvement in symptoms on a gluten-free diet. If you have adverse reactions to gluten, but celiac disease is ruled out, then it is called non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
In non-celiac gluten sensitivity, there is no attack on the body’s own tissues. However, many of the symptoms are similar to those in celiac disease, including bloating, stomach pain, fatigue, diarrhea, as well as pain in the bones and joints. Unfortunately… because there is no clear way of diagnosing gluten sensitivity, reliable numbers are impossible to find. About 40% of people carry the HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8 genes, which make people susceptible to gluten sensitivity. A good way to diagnose it, the only true way of knowing is by eliminating gluten temporarily from your diet, then reintroducing it to see if you have symptoms.
Adverse Effects, Even in People Who Don’t Have Gluten Sensitivity
There are also studies showing that individuals with neither celiac disease nor diagnosed gluten sensitivity have adverse reactions to gluten. In one study, 34 individuals with irritable bowel syndrome were randomized to either a gluten-containing or a gluten-free diet. The group on the gluten-containing diet had more pain, bloating, stool inconsistency and fatigue compared to the other group). There are also studies showing that gluten can cause inflammation in the intestine and a degenerated intestinal lining. Gluten may also have negative effects on the barrier function of the intestine, allowing unwanted substances to “leak” through into the bloodstream . However, according to one study, this “leakiness” of the gut only happens in celiac patients.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) involves various digestive issues with an unknown cause, afflicting about 14% of people in the U.S. According to the studies above, some cases of IBS may be either caused or exacerbated by gluten. Several studies show that individuals (especially IBS patients) who don’t have diagnosed gluten sensitivity can have adverse reactions to gluten.
Contrary to what is believed by many, wheat is not to be avoided only by those who suffer Celiac disease, the autoimmune disease caused by a reaction of the immune system against gliadin, a gluten protein. Those with Celiac disease only react more strongly to wheat and gluten than those without the disease, but most people have a reaction in some way or another to wheat consumption, often in insidious ways.
Undiagnosed to Gluten Intolerance.
Gluten is a protein composite found in several types of grains, including wheat, spelt, rye and barley. Gluten consists of two proteins… gliadin and glutenin. It is the gliadin part that people react negatively to.
When gluten reaches the digestive tract and is exposed to the cells of the immune system, they mistakenly believe that it is coming from some sort of foreign invader, like a bacteria. In certain people who are sensitive to gluten, this causes the immune system to mount an attack against it.
In Celiac Disease (the most severe form of gluten sensitivity), the immune system attacks the gluten proteins, but it also attacks an enzyme in the cells of the digestive tract called tissue transglutanminase. Therefore, gluten exposure in Celiacs causes the immune system to attack both the gluten as well as the intestinal wall itself. For this reason, celiac disease is classified as an autoimmune disease. The immune reaction can cause degeneration of the intestinal wall, which leads to nutrient deficiencies, various digestive issues, anemia, fatigue, failure to thrive as well as an increased risk of many serious diseases.
There are also studies showing that the rate of celiac disease is increasing rapidly in the population
Many Brain Disorders Are Associated With Gluten Even though gluten primarily works its “magic” in the gut, it can also have severe effects on the brain. Many cases of neurological illness may be caused and/or exacerbated by gluten consumption. This is called gluten sensitive idiopathic neuropathy. Many of patients with neurological illness of an unknown cause, 30 of 53 patients (57%) had antibodies against gluten in the blood).
The main neurological disorder believed to be at least partly caused by gluten is cerebellar ataxia,, a serious disease of the brain that involves an inability to coordinate balance, movements, problems talking, etc. It is now known that many cases of ataxia are directly linked to gluten consumption. This is called gluten ataxia and involves irreversible damage to the cerebellum, a part of the brain that is important in motor control. Many studies show strong statistical associations between gluten consumption, gluten sensitivity and cerebellar ataxia. There is also a controlled trial showing that ataxia patients improve significantly on a gluten-free diet.
There are several other brain disorders that respond well to a gluten-free diet:
• Schizophrenia: Patients sees massive improvements by removing gluten.
• Autism: Several studies suggest that people with autism see improvements in symptoms on a gluten-free diet).
• Epilepsy: There are several reports of patients with epilepsy improving significantly when removing gluten.
If you have any neurological problems and your doctor doesn’t have a clue what is causing them… then it makes sense to try removing gluten from your diet.
Gluten Associated With Autoimmune Diseases
Autoimmune diseases are caused by the immune system attacking things that are found naturally in the body. There are many types of autoimmune diseases that affect various organ systems. All of them combined afflict about 3% of the population.
Celiac disease is one type of autoimmune disease and celiac patients are at a drastically increased risk of getting other autoimmune diseases as well. Many studies have found strong statistical associations between gluten, celiac disease and various other autoimmune diseases, including thyroid problems,, Type 1 Diabetes, Multiple sclerosis and various others.
Test Yourself by Eliminating Gluten For Awhile
At the end of the day, the only way to know if you should avoid gluten or not, is to remove it from your diet, then reintroduce it and see if you get symptoms.
If you completely eliminate gluten for 30 days, then eat a meal with gluten and experience adverse effects, then you probably have gluten sensitivity and should make a serious effort to avoid it.
If you have any mysterious health issues, then you owe it to yourself to try a gluten-free diet for 30 days. You have nothing to lose and it may end up saving your life.
Gluten itself doesn’t offer special nutritional benefits. But the many whole grains that contain gluten do. They’re rich in an array of vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins and iron, as well as fiber. Studies show that whole grain foods, as part of a healthy diet, may help lower risk of heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and some forms of cancer. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that half of all carbohydrates in the diet come from whole grain products.
The basis of a healthy gluten-free diet, as with any diet, should be natural foods. Lean meats and fish, fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy products are all safe for people with celiac disease. Grains that don’t contain gluten, such as quinoa and amaranth, are another healthy option. More and more products are being made with such grains, from breads and breakfast cereals to pastas.
When it comes to things that we, humans, are not adapted to eat and digest, wheat and its gluten protein is probably at the top of the list. It’s very sad that wheat is so omnipresent in our society though and many health conditions would probably not even exist if it were not for our high consumption of wheat. Positive changes are often noticed immediately after removing wheat and other gluten containing grains from the diet.
Even though most people can indulge in less healthy choices from time to time without negative consequences, wheat and other gluten containing grains should be completely avoided, especially for those who suffer any kind of autoimmune disease or inflammatory condition..
Twenty years ago there were no allergy concerns stated listed on food labels, whereas there are now 26 allergens that food manufacturers have to deal with daily in the production and packaging of food.
WARNING: Watch for hidden gluten in foods such as soy, mustard, ketchup, malt (even in white vinegar) and a lot of medicines especially vitamins and minerals that you buy from your favorite health food stores and pharmacies. I've included a list, but you can find even more on the internet.
• Barley (flakes, flour, pearl)
• Breading, bread stuffing
• Brewer's yeast
• Durum (type of wheat)
• Farro/faro (also known as spelt or dinkel)
• Graham flour
• Hydrolyzed wheat protein
• Kamut (type of wheat)
• Malt, malt extract, malt syrup, malt flavoring
• Malt vinegar
• Malted milk
• Matzo, matzo meal
• Modified wheat starch
• Oatmeal, oat bran, oat flour, whole oats (unless they are from pure, uncontaminated oats)
• Rye bread and flour
• Seitan (a meat-like food derived from wheat gluten used in many vegetarian dishes)
• Spelt (type of wheat also known as farro, faro, or dinkel)
• Wheat bran
• Wheat flour
• Wheat germ
• Wheat starch
• Atta (chapati flour)
• Einkorn (type of wheat)
• Emmer (type of wheat)
• Fu (a dried gluten product made from wheat and used in some Asian dishes)
• Beer, ale, lager
• Broth, soup, soup bases
• Cookies and crackers
• Some chocolates, some chocolate bars, licorice
• Flavored coffees and teas
• Imitation bacon bits, imitation seafoods
• Medications (check with your pharmacist)
• Processed foods
• Salad dressings
• Sausages, hot dogs, deli meats
• Sauces, marinades, gravies
• Soy sauce