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What Is Gluten? 10 Facts About Gluten Intolerance

Published February 18, 2019 (Revised: May 14, 2019)
<article> <section> <p>A decade ago no one would understand you if you said you were cutting bread out of your diet because of a gluten intolerance. Today, not only do people understand, but accommodating gluten-free diets is a growing trend across American restaurants and food brands. But what is gluten? And could you be suffering from a gluten intolerance? Here are ten facts to help you separate the trendy talk from your own health.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="grilled-cheese-sandwich-0082"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>1. What is gluten?</header> <p><i>Gluten</i> is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and other grains. Pretty much all common breads and baked goods are made using gluten, unless otherwise specified. This is because gluten makes for an excellent bonding agent; in fact, gluten is Latin for ‘glue’.<sup>1</sup> It’s the stuff that gives dough it’s moldable consistency.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="hands-kneading-dough-0082"> </picture> <p>Gluten makes for such a great bonding agent that it can be found in almost anything-even products that aren’t on your plate! For example, the part of an envelope you have to lick to seal closed contains gluten. Mock proteins can contain gluten, as can sauces, condiments, and deli meats. Gluten is also used in pet food and treats, which can be problematic for anyone whose furry friend likes to give kisses, especially if you have celiac disease.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>2. A gluten intolerance is not the same thing as celiac disease.</header> <p><i>Celiac disease</i> is a very specialized allergy to gluten that shaves down the <i>microvilli</i> of the small intestine. Microvilli are structures in the lining of the gut where nutrients are absorbed from the food you eat. Because of microvilli, we are able to fit a football field’s worth of absorbable surface area into our small, compact human bodies. People with celiac disease can get very sick very quickly.<p> <p>Celiac disease is so dangerous because it can affect so many different aspects of a person’s health. Many cases go undetected without a proper medical test to know for sure. The most extreme symptoms of celiac disease include:</p> <ul> <li> Malnutrition (hair loss, fatigue, muscle cramps, body aches, etc.)</li> <li> Mental illness, depression, and anxiety in particular</li> <li> Diarrhea and digestive upset symptoms</li> <li>Seizures</li> <li>Infertility<sup>2</sup></li> </ul> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>3. A gluten intolerance is not nearly as extreme as celiac disease.</header> <p>Gluten intolerance is called <i>non-celiac gluten sensitivity</i>. People who fall into this diagnosis report that they feel a lot better when they cut out gluten, but the microvilli in their guts are intact, and they test negative for gluten allergies. However, the symptoms of a gluten sensitivity are still very real and damaging. Some common symptoms include:</p> <div class="sub-head">Digestive upset symptoms like:</div> <ul> <ul> <li>Bloating</li> <li>Constipation</li> <li>Diarrhea </li> </ul> <li>Fatigue (even chronic fatigue can be a symptom)</li> <li>Brain fog</li> <li>Ongoing headaches</li> <li>Body aches</li> <li>Nutrient deficiencies</li> <li>Reproductive and hormonal issues</li> <li>Autoimmune issues</li> <li>Skin problems like:</li> <ul> <li>Adult acne</li> <li>Eczema</li> <li>Rosacea</li> </ul> </ul> <p>People diagnosed with a non-celiac gluten sensitivity can have one or more of these symptoms all go away on a successful change in diet. How though? If a gluten sensitivity is not an allergy, why does it exist at all? Why can’t some people digest gluten? The answer is not something the medical community chalks up to a response of “just ‘cause.” In fact, gluten is argued to be harmful to the health of all humans.<sup>3</sup></p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="blades-of-wheat-0082"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>4. Gluten is an anti-nutrient.</header> <p>That is to say that gluten is not meant to be a source of nourishment for our human bodies. A lot of plants put anti-nutrients, or toxins, in their seeds or fruits in order to protect them from animals. Seeds and grains are how plants reproduce, and because plants cannot get up and chase away the incoming green finch from eating its young, the plant protects its seeds and grains with anti-nutrients.</p> <p>In some cases, anti-nutrients bind to actual nutrients to stop them from being absorbed in the human body, but people with gluten sensitivities experience another harmful disadvantage: <a href="" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer">leaky gut</a>.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>5. Gluten causes leaky gut.</header> <p><i>Leaky gut</i> is a condition medically known as <i>intestinal permeability</i>; it’s a diagnosis given to a gut that’s been punctured through by diet and lifestyle choices. Yes, you read that right: leaky gut is what happens when holes develop in your digestive tract. It sounds scary, but it is actually a very common state for our guts to be in-because of gluten and how prevalent it is.</p> <p>Most people who have a leaky gut don’t realize it. It is not automatically painful, but it is often the first chain in a long cascade of serious health problems.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>6. Gluten causes inflammation.</header> <p>Specifically, leaky gut is harmful to our health in two ways; the first way is because it causes inflammation. When we have holes in our gut, undigested food particles can pass through the lining of our digestive tract and free-float in our bodies. Our immune system registers the food particles as foreign invaders and launches attacks against the food stuffs. This chain reaction has been linked to the rise in food allergies over the past decade.</p> <p>When our immune system is on hyperdrive, attacking free-floating food particles, the body becomes inflamed. The constant inflammation caused from leaky gut alone can lead to a whole host of other health problems from heart issues to autoimmune disease. The process to healing leaky gut is a long road, but the first step that is always suggested is to start thriving on a gluten-free diet.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="white-bread-0082"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>7. Gluten hurts our microbiome.</header> <p>The second health problem to be gained from leaky gut comes from the loss of the <em>microbiome</em>. The microbiome is an intricate and complicated network of healthy bacteria, fungi, viruses, and <i>archaea</i> (old school bacteria) that live alongside of us. They communicate with each other as well as with our own cells about the food we’re eating and the environment they’re in. New research shows that they are in charge of almost everything from regulating depression and anxiety<sup>5</sup> to ensuring you have a healthy heart.<sup>6</sup></p> <p>The microbiome lives on all of our surfaces, on our skin, in our mouths, and in our digestive tract. When we get leaky gut, thereby putting holes in their home, they have nothing to attach to. A healthy microbiome needs a diverse range of bacterial and fungal strains, but a leaky gut cannot house too many bugs, and this makes for an unhealthy gut. Likewise, similar to the food bits that will free-float in our bodies when gluten puts holes in our gut, so too will these microbiome strains. You read that right, leaky gut can cause all kinds of nasty things to float around freely in our bodies. And one of the biggest causes of leaky gut is gluten.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>8. Gluten sensitivities are hard to test for.</header> <p>Currently, the only reliable test for gluten reactions is an allergy test, but as we mentioned before, a gluten sensitivity is not a gluten allergy. Gluten intolerance is medically referred to as non-celiac gluten sensitivity because it is technically a <i>diagnosis of exclusion</i>, meaning you can only receive the diagnosis when all the other options are ruled out. If you do not test positive for celiac disease, but all of your health problems go away when you remove gluten, then you are sensitive to it.</p> <p>Due to the fact that there is no sure-fire test for gluten intolerance, the diagnosis is normally done in two steps: step one is an allergy test, and the second step is an elimination diet that will cut out all forms of gluten-a gluten-free diet.</p> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>9. Not all gluten-free grains are gluten-free.</header> <p>It sounds counterintuitive, but just because a grain, like oats, doesn’t contain gluten, doesn’t mean the product you’re buying hasn’t been exposed to, and contaminated with, gluten. A lot of grains use the same farming equipment for harvest or are kept in the same silos at different times of the year; due to how food processing works in America, unless a grain product says that it is gluten-free, you cannot be sure how that grain was harvested.</p> <p>It is still important to get some grains into your diet however, even if you’re working on a gluten-free diet, because grains offer a lot of nutrients and fiber in a small amount of space. Grains are powerhouses of energy and avoiding them entirely is only recommended if you’re committed to a diet designed to fill in the gaps, like the ketogenic diet or paleo diet. Because of this dietary need, we would like to point to you towards one subgroup of gluten-free grains.</p> <picture class="lazy-load"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/webp"> <source data-srcset="" type="image/jpf"> <source data-srcset=""> <img src="" class="img-fluid" alt="jars-with-grains-0082"> </picture> </section> <hr class="divider-50 divider-medium mx-auto"> <section> <header>10. Ancient grains are always gluten-free.</header> <p>If you’re on a gluten-free diet, the grains you want to look for are <em>ancient grains</em>, like:</p> <ul> <li>Quinoa</li> <li>Buckwheat</li> <li>Millet</li> <li>Amaranth</li> </ul> <p>These grains are always gluten-free because their harvesting process is different from that of more commercial grains. Safe for your gut and therefore your health, ancient grains can fill a wheat-sized hole if you’re taking the plunge on a gluten-free diet. </p> <p>Additionally, when it comes to baking wheat-free, there are great gluten-free substitutions found in almond flour, coconut flour, and rice flour. Most baked goods call for wheat flour, but you cannot separate the wheat from the gluten, so baking with substitutions is the best solution.</p> <p>Glutinous grains like wheat and rye are a major part of our food industry these days, but with all of the bad reactions to the protein complex gluten, a lot of people find that they feel better adhering to a gluten-free diet. Gluten has been proven to cause harm across the board to the human body, but some people’s bodies are more sensitive than others, and they can feel a wide range of side effects from one simple slice of bread. Different from celiac disease and a gluten allergy, gluten intolerance is now a legitmate diagnosis. And with proper substitutions, a gluten-free diet can be the health answer a lot of people need.</p> <div class="sub-head">Resources</div> <ol> <li>Wheat Belly by David Perlmutter, MD</li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Symptoms of Celiac Disease</a></li> <li>The Autoimmune Fix by Tom O’Bryan, DC, CCN, DACBN</li> <li>The Autoimmune Fix by Tom O’Bryan, DC, CCN, DACBN</li> <li>The Pocket Guide to Polyvagal Theory by Stephen W. Porges</li> <li><a target="_blank" href="" rel="noreferrer">Gut microbiome and its role in cardiovascular diseases.</a></li> </ol> </section> </article>

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