Awareness of the gluten’s negative effects on health has increased lately.
One 2013 survey shows that 1/3 of the Americans are actively trying to eliminate gluten from their diets because the gluten-free diet is more than just the latest fad! There are scientific studies showing that gluten does have harmful effects.
Could you be one of them?
It is concerning that about 55 diseases have been linked to gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. And it’s estimated that amazing 99% of the people who have either gluten sensitivity or celiac disease are never diagnosed!
Composition of the gluten
Gluten consists of 2 proteins: gliadin and glutenin. In fact, it is the gliadin protein that people react negatively to.
When flour is mixed with water, gluten forms a sticky cross-linked network of proteins, giving elastic properties to dough and allowing bread to rise when baked. Actually, the name gluten is derived from these glue–like properties.
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 a foreign invader like a bacterium. In certain people, who are sensitive to gluten, this causes the immune system to mount an attack against it!
Gluten related diseases
In celiac disease, which is 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 transglutaminase. So, gluten exposure in celiac cases causes the immune system to attack both the gluten proteins and the intestinal wall itself. For this reason, celiac disease is classified as an autoimmune disease.
The body’s immune reaction can cause degeneration of the intestinal wall, which leads to nutrient deficiencies, various digestive issues, anemia, fatigue, as well as an increased risk of many other serious diseases. Currently, celiac disease afflicts about 1% of the US population, but the percent is increasing.
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.
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, since there is no clear way of diagnosing gluten sensitivity, reliable numbers on how common it is are impossible to find.
Two scientific sources show that up to 6-8% people may have gluten sensitivity, based on anti-gliadin antibodies found in the blood. However, one gastroenterologist found that 11% of people had antibodies against gluten in their blood and 29% of people had antibodies against it in their stool samples.
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. 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.
About 40% of people carry the HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8 genes, which make people susceptible to gluten sensitivity.
Given that there is no clear definition of gluten sensitivity, or a good way to diagnose it, the only true way of knowing it is by eliminating gluten temporarily from your diet, and then reintroducing it to see if you have symptoms.
So, if you have any of the following 10 symptoms it could be a sign that you are gluten-intolerant:
Digestive issues such as gas, bloating, diarrhea and even constipation. Constipation in children, particularly after consuming gluten, is evident.
- Mood issues such as anxiety, depression, mood swings and ADD.
- Fatigue, brain fog or feeling tired after eating a meal that contains gluten.
- Diagnosis of an autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, lupus, psoriasis, scleroderma or multiple sclerosis.
- Neurologic symptoms such as dizziness or feeling “off balance”.
- Hormone imbalances such as PMS, PCOS or unexplained infertility.
- Migraine headaches.
- Diagnosis of chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia. These diagnoses simply indicate your conventional doctor cannot pin point the cause of your fatigue or pain.
- Inflammation, swelling or pain in your joints in your fingers, knees or hips.
- Keratosis pilaris (also known as ‘chicken skin’ on the back of your arms). This tends to be a result of a fatty acid deficiency and vitamin A deficiency secondary to fat-malabsorption caused by gluten damaging the gut.