I saw a late night show that took the camera crew to the streets. They ask people if they knew what gluten was. Even those who said they were gluten-free didn’t have the answer. The point was that gluten and going gluten-free has become a big deal lately, but few people know why.
Diarrhea, constipation, abdominal bloating, depression, fatigue, rashes, headaches can all be connected to wheat or gluten intolerance.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, spelt, barley, rye and the various forms of wheat such as couscous, semolina, and bulgar wheat. Depending on growing and manufacturing practices, oats are tolerated by some people and not by others with gluten sensitivities. Gluten is what makes the dough of these grains sticky and elastic. It makes bread soft and chewy. It can also irritate your gut lining.
In some individuals gluten can set off a reaction so severe, in the small intestines, that it trigger’s an autoimmune response. The T cells, which are responsible for eradicating dead cells, are overwhelmed. So the T cells resort to attacking the healthy tissue of the small intestines, since that’s where the dead cells are coming from. This auto immune reaction can evolve into celiac disease; an autoimmune disease effecting the small intestines.
For most people gluten doesn’t have such dire results. Some people have very strong gut flora and therefore a strong digestive system. Gluten doesn’t seem to bother them. For others, gluten is an irritant that they can handle infrequently or in small doses.
Wheat allergies are a separate issue. Any food allergy is the result of the leaky gut syndrome. If the microvilli in the small intestines aren’t regenerating fast enough, every 20 minutes, it can cause holes in the gut lining. Whole food particles can then enter the blood stream. Whole food particles haven’t been broken down to remove the waste; the part you are supposed to poop out. The waste entering your blood stream can cause an allergic reaction. It’s like sewage leaking into you’re drinking water. Not a good thing! Your white blood cells then rush to the site to kill off the harmful substances before they are circulated throughout your body. Inflammation slows down the circulation of the external pathogens, giving the white blood cells more time to do their job. Anything that irritates the gut lining, like gluten, can contribute to food allergies.
In the US, wheat has become a major culprit in the increasing problem of gluten intolerance and digestive issues. It’s a huge cash crop. Over the last 60 years or so, making wheat more profitable by increasing production has been a priority for the industry. Cross breeding wheat and non-wheat grasses increased the size of the head of wheat, decreased the height of the stalk, and made plants more insect and disease resistant. But it also increased the amount of gluten tenfold and made it much more difficult to digest. Countries who haven’t crossbred their wheat in this manor, and don’t buy wheat seeds from the US, have more easily digestible wheat. This excessive cross breeding is a separate issue from GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) wheat.
Often people who don’t tolerate wheat can eat spelt, barley and rye because the gluten content is much less. These grains aren’t as popular as wheat and so haven’t been hybridized as extensively. Bread made with just barley or rye flour has a consistency completely different from wheat. The bread is denser, harder, and less soft and chewy, because these grains contain much less gluten. Spelt bread is often more crumbly than wheat bread, unless something like xanthan gum is used to help glue it together.
As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, wheat and corn are very different from their parent grains of 60 years ago. These hybrid grains cause insulin insensitivity in most people. Insulin insensitivity impairs efficient transportation of glucose from your blood into your tissues, where it is used as fuel for your cells. The result is high blood sugar. High blood sugar can cause a crash of energy, mental acuity, and mood after eating. High blood sugar also feeds cancers cells and increases infertility; to name just a few health problems it creates. For my patients who have high blood sugar or diabetes, removing wheat and corn from their diets is an essential part of their treatment protocol. This, along with the treatment and supplements I prescribe for them, enables them to keep their blood sugar under control. Depending on the patient, most are able to enjoy wheat and corn on occasion. Though they often tell me they can feel the effects of eating these grains immediately, which provides more incentive to avoid both.
The reason wheat-free and gluten-free have become such a big deal is because of the increasing number of people who are getting a reaction to them. But many people are adversely effected by wheat and gluten and don’t even realize it. If you have problems with diarrhea, constipation, abdominal bloating, depression, fatigue, rashes, or chronic headaches you might have wheat or gluten intolerance.
Of course, any of these issues can be the result of a combination of things. So if you have any of these problems try going wheat-free for a few weeks. If that doesn’t produce results go gluten-free. This is an easy way to see if either gluten or wheat are adversely impacting your health.
If you are still having trouble, get in to see me so we can figure out what else is going on and how to address it.
Health and Happiness,
Nancy Burton, L.Ac.
For Appointments Call: 541-646-0134