This is one word that is sure to get a response, be it positive or negative, due to its prevalence over recent years. The topic of gluten, and all of its subsidiaries (Gluten Free/GF, Gluten Sensitivity), is a hot issue that everyone has an opinion about. With all the conflicting information out there, how many of our opinions are formed from fact?

Gluten: What is it?

Anyone can tell you that gluten has something to do with bread, but did you know that it is the Latin word for ‘glue’? Sounds delicious, right?

Gluten is made up of two primary proteins found in wheat, spelt, rye, and barley. When mixed with water, these proteins (gliadin and glutenin) work together to make a glue-like consistency. If you have ever made bread, you know what I’m talking about (Gunnars, 2016). This should be no match for your stomach, right?

Wrong. Many of the gluten proteins are actually fairly resistant to intestinal digestion (Eastwood, “Gluten Sensitivity”).

What Does Gluten do in My Body?

How gluten reacts in your body has a lot to do with your unique biological make-up. Are you prone to depression and fatigue? Do you suffer from an autoimmune disorder? Do you struggle with skin issues? If so, gluten may just be one of the contributing factors.

For someone who has Celiac’s Disease and must follow a strict diet, the ingestion of even trace amounts of gluten can trigger an immune reaction that forces the body to fight its own healthy bacteria in the small intestine, leading to impaired intestinal function. This disrupts nutrient absorption, which sabotages the health of every system and function in the body that requires these nutrients. For example, up to 80% of our immune system exists in the intestinal tract, hormones are synthesized in our intestinal flora, and toxic waste and bi-products of metabolic processes are eliminated through the intestinal tract – all of which is impaired when intestinal function is compromised. Scary stuff!

Unlike celiac disease, individuals with a gluten sensitivity do not create antibodies that fight against their own tissues, however can still have very disturbing symptoms that affect quality of life.

  • bloating
  • stomach pain
  • flatulence
  • diarrhea
  • headaches
  • eczema or other skin issues
  • bone/joint pain
  • fatigue
  • depression

Media has had fun discrediting non-celiac gluten sensitivity, however a recent study  at Columbia University Medical Centre, findings revealed a “state of systemic immune activation in conjunction with a compromised intestinal epithelium affecting a subset of individuals who experience sensitivity to wheat in the absence of celiac disease.”

So for those who have ruled out Celiac’s Disease, don’t assume you are safe from the inflammatory effects of gluten. Although the science surrounding gluten has been controversial, one thing does seem very clear: gluten can make symptoms of existing conditions such as depression, type I diabetes, acne, schizophrenia, and even autism, more pronounced.

Where Do I Go From Here?

Ok so you’ve decided you want to be gluten-free, awesome! Go to the grocery store and buy yourself all those processed, pre-packaged GF foods on the shelves of many grocery stores!

Wait, what?

Don’t do this! Don’t misinterpret “gluten-free” for “healthy”. Just because a box says GF doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Often these packaged GF foods still have a ton of refined sugar, trans fat, chemical food colorings or other additives and are certainly anything by healthy! In fact, often manufacturers have added extra of these refined sugars or saturated fats to make up for the missing cohesive properties of gluten. Tricky, hey?

Your best plan of attack, as always, is to buy natural whole foods with limited ingredients. Any food that is packaged, processed, and has a long list of ingredients is typically low in nutrients and high in damaging compounds. Fresh produce is always a great thing to stock your fridge with.

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