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The Ugly Truth about Gluten



How does Gluten Wreak Havoc?

Gluten Free is one of those terms you hear thrown around a bit these days and you’d have to be living on another planet to not have heard the terms Gluten Intolerance or Celiac Disease. We’re all aware that consuming Gluten can impact your gut health to some degree but what are the specifics? And how exactly are you being harmed when you bite in to that slice of pizza?

Firstly let’s start with: What is Gluten?

Gluten is a sticky protein commonly found in grains, most notably in wheat, along with barley, rye, spelt and other’s. This observable gluey texture is used in many processed foods as a binder due to its sticky nature: “It’s easy to bind foods to be quickly processed so they hold together well”.

So why is gluten such a big problem now?

The wheat which we’re eating today resembles nothing like the wheat our parents and grandparents ate. Due to agricultural farming practices, in order to create a drought and bug resistant, faster growing wheat.. We’ve hybridized the grain to such an extent, it’s something different. The new hybridized grain may well grow faster and survive in arid climates, however the downside is up to 5% of the proteins found in these hybridized wheat strains can’t be found in the original wheat plants. These “new 5% of proteins” play an interesting roll in the production of increased system inflammation and intolerance to gluten.

Today’s hybridized new strain has been so bifurcated, allowing it to be more water soluble so that it can easily be mixed in to virtually any type of food packaging. The effect of this modern farming standard has shown to bring about a large negative immune response in many people. Today’s regular modern day person living in this fast paced world is eating way more wheat than our ancestors ever ate, and worse still it resembles hardly anything like the original.

So what’s happening to our bodies when we eat gluten?

Whether it’s pizza, pasta or even a sandwich you innocently chow down on for lunch, there’s a whole chemistry happening inside your intestines once your lunch reaches them; The process is called “Tissue Transglutaminase” (TTG),  basically TTG is an enzyme produced in your intestinal wall and is responsible for breaking gluten in to it’s building blocks, glutenin and gliadin.

As your tasty sandwich for lunch makes it’s way along down your digestive system, your “Gut Assosiated Lymphoid Tissue” (GALT) which is another term for the immune system in your gut and works to protect the body from invasion of potentially harmful substances, reviews your sandwich which has now been broken down in to glutenin and gliadin; The gliadin travels through to where in some people the GALT identifies gliadin as a dangerous foreign substance and produces antibodies to attack the threat, in celiac’s this antibody response also attacks the TTG as well which is what is responsible to break the gluten in to two parts.

The TTG enzyme has a number of crucial roles, however the most significant contribution is holding together the microvilli in our gut. These microvilli which are like tiny hairs help collect nutrients by absorbing them through the walls of your intestines, meaning the more surface area there is for the microvilli, the more they will be-able to absorb. Basically the microvilli exist in your intestines to help absorb nutrients.

So you can imagine when your body produces antibodies to defend itself against a foreign attack like say gliadin to your TTG, the helpful microvilli can start to atrophy decreasing your ability to absorb nutrients, this in turn allows the walls of your intestines to become leaky which can manifest a host digestive problems including:

Iron Deficiency
Weight Loss
Is there a link between gluten, systemic inflammation and autoimmune disease?

Sadly it’s not just the TTG for gliadin which these antibodies confuse and end up attacking.. Unfortunately they also attack other organs and systems from the thyroid to the brain, hence why gluten sensitivity is frequently paired with autoimmune conditions. Gluten could be causing your body to attack itself on multiple fronts. The alarming fact that something you’ve eaten is responsible for issues outside your digestive system such as rheumatoid arthritis is why so many people go as long as they do without realizing they have a problem with gluten.

What if you suspect you’re gluten intolerant?

How can you know and determine if you have an issue with gluten? The best way to see if you have an issue with it is to take it out of your diet completely for a minimum of one month, then reintroduce it and see if you feel significantly better when you reduce it or significantly worse when you reintroduce it. The important thing to remember is to completely eliminate 100% of gluten from your diet to get the best results, it may even be a good idea to stick to it for longer than a month to get more accurate results as gluten is a large protein which can be hard to be eliminate from your system. You can also ask your doctor to order tests for gluten sensitivity, but at the end of the day you’ll know how you feel once you cut it out of your diet.

Whats the best way to treat gluten sensitivity and celiac disease?

The obvious is to eliminate gluten 100% out of your diet, meaning you cut it out not only at home but also when eating out! The 80/20 rule is a misconception which many people make thinking a small amount is ok when eating out, however a lancet article published in 2001 states those celiac disease eating gluten just once a month increased the risk of death by 600% So although the outward signs of eating gluten may be bloating and mild headaches, the effects may last between 3 to 6 months in the immune system, meaning a small amount can do more than enough damage.

In some cases giving up gluten 100% isn’t enough, there may be damage caused to the gut lining which may need to be healed, additionally there may be infections in the gut such as bacterial overgrowth, candida and parasites which may also need to be addressed.

As they say, “When in doubt, go without” There’s no nutritional value to gluten, infact you may be saving your life by cutting it out!

Curtesy of Mind Body Green


Wheat ears of fresh harvest on a summer sunny day