Gluten-free. Everyone, including my grandmother is doing it! Could it just be a trend? This is a question that has been asked by so many, on a daily basis. It has become apparent that gluten issues are on the rise, with studies showing a 5-fold increase of Celiac Disease since 1974, with another study showing 30-50% of people carry the gene. Here’s the shocker: people carrying the gluten sensitivity genes are much more common than those carrying the Celiac Disease gene. Gluten is a structural protein found in many grains, wheat being the major one. Other grains containing gluten are: barley, pumpernickel, rye, spelt, kamut. It can also found in medications, supplements and cosmetics like skin and hair products (lip balms, etc). So, what is gluten? It is made up of 2 proteins known as gliadin and glutenin. Seperately, these are found in about 80% of all grains.
When ingested, gluten causes an autoimmune reaction destroying the hair-like projections of the intestines, known as villi. Villi are extremely important for nutrient absorption. Inflammation and destruction of the villi result in malabsorption. A downright allergy to gluten is known as Celiac Disease. Celiac is most commonly thought of an illness of the colon. Symptoms of Celiac are variable, but often include: abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, vomitting, constipation and weightloss. Celiac Disease is a gut mediated immune reaction. Often, many of our patients with digestive issues have already seen the gastroenterologist and have been tested for Celiac with negative blood tests.
Gluten sensitivity is estimated to be 6 times more prevalent than Celiac Disease. Most common symptoms of gluten sensitivity are abdominal pain, eczema, rash, headache, ‘foggy mind’ (clarity), fatigue, diarrhea, depression, anemia and numbness (most to least common). Note, that many of these symptoms occur out of the intestinal tract.
The third type of patient coming to our clinic has an actual allergy to wheat, known as wheat allergy. This is a reaction mediated by histamine. It is a systemic illness, meaning, it effects the whole body and not just the large intestines. In order to be diagnosed with Celiac’s Disease one must undergo blood testing, Tissue Transglutaminase (TTG) and / or biopsy.
All of these conditions are induced by gluten, with people improving when undergoing a gluten-free diet and lifestyle.
So what’s with the trend? The topic of gluten issues doesn’t have so much to do with it being a trend as it is an increased level of awareness.
Okay, but, why are we reacting to gluten in such a way? Many reasons have been thought to be the cause of gluten issues: poor prenatal dietary habits, genetic predisposition and susceptibility, immune and chronic stress, changes to the strains of wheat (containing higher gluten content), modern day processing methods and digestive enzyme / acid deficiencies.
Talk with your naturopathic physician if you or someone you know is suspected as having gluten issues.