What exactly is Gluten and why might I have a problem with it?

Over the past year or so, there has been a lot of talk about gluten and how it may or may not be healthy for anyone to eat. It seems, for a lot of people, that gluten is definitely a problem or it’s the first thing they eliminate when they are having digestive issues. I have seen a large number of clients who, in fact, do have an obvious problem with gluten; it disrupts your whole body when you have a problem with it, not just your belly. In this article, I will share with you what gluten is, where it is found, what celiac disease is, and what gluten sensitivity is. I will also address why gluten sensitivity and celiac disease are on the rise.

what is glutenGluten is the stick protein found in wheat, barley, rye, spelt, and contaminated oats. I include oats in this list because IF they are not certified gluten free, there is a 95% chance that they are contaminated with gluten because they are processed in the same plant, on the same line as wheat. That is the reason that you will see oat listed under the grains that contain gluten. Gluten makes foods nice and sticky and fluffy, hence the name gluten. Gluten is in almost every processed food on the market today. It acts as filler and a binding agent in foods that you would not suspect there to be any wheat in. This is why it’s so important to read your food labels.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease. It is a condition triggered and sustained by the ingestion of gluten (wheat, barley, rye, and spelt in genetically pre-disposed individuals). CD causes inflammatory damage to the villi of in small intestine resulting in the death of these villi, which causes malabsorption of nutrients. The villi are the hair like projections in your intestines that absorb all of the nutrients from your food, so when they are damaged, this starts to cause major health problems. Not only does it create localized inflammation in your gut, it creates inflammation in your whole body system. You will feel it in your joints or you could have headaches, just to name a few. This is a lifelong disease and one must be very careful and be diligent with their diet. If left untreated, it can cause cancers, diabetes, other autoimmune diseases such as lupus. Celiac disease is nothing to play with. Following a gluten free diet, if you are not careful, you can develop significant nutrient deficiencies as the gluten free diet CAN be low in fiber, iron, B12, calcium, and zinc. It’s very important for those with celiac disease to meet with a dietitian a few times a year to make sure they are getting all of their nutrients and their diet is well balanced.

A gluten sensitivity or intolerance is not an autoimmune disease and does not directly cause damage to the villi, however, it does cause leaky gut which leads to chronic inflammation throughout your whole body and can lead to other serious health problems if not treated with a lifelong gluten free diet. When you have a gluten sensitivity, ingesting gluten leads to the junctions in your intestines to open. These junctions act like a bouncer at a club. They are supposed to only let the good through but when you eat gluten, the bouncer is no longer there and lets food particles, gluten, and bacteria in and creates symptoms. This leads to chronic inflammation, cancer, and diabetes, just to name a few.

If you have any of these symptoms listed below, you may have a problem with gluten and I would recommend seeing your doctor and dietitian that specializes in celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, which I just happen to specialize in.

  • GI distress: diarrhea, constipation, bloating, abdominal cramping, abdominal distention, weight loss, trouble losing weight.
  • Behavioral symptoms can include Foggy mind, headaches, fatigue, depression, or ADHD like behavior.
  • Other symptoms can include joint pain, anemia, osteoporosis and leg numbness.

There are a few reasons why celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are on the rise.

  1. We are eating a grain referred to as super wheat. There is more gluten than ever in the wheat products on the market today. Wheat on the market may look like wheat but it contains a super starch – amylopectin A – that is super fattening. It contains a form of super gluten that is super-inflammatory. It contains forms of a super drug that is super-addictive and makes you crave and eat more (Dr. Mark Hyman).
  2. People are taking gut-busting drugs that are destroying the lining of the small intestine causing leaky gut and damage to the intestines like NSAIDS, antibiotics and acid blocking drugs. Along with leaky gut, these gut busting drugs are also causing numerous sensitivities to other foods as well.

With all of that being said, if you feel that you have a problem with wheat, then I would recommend seeing your doctor to be tested for celiac disease BEFORE you start on the gluten free diet. The reason I say BEFORE is you have to be consuming gluten for the blood tests to be accurate. If you have not eaten gluten in the past month or more, then you will not have an accurate test. It is best to be tested and have celiac disease ruled out (or in) before you start on your gluten free journey. If you feel you do not have a problem with gluten but would like to try a gluten free diet to lose weight, I am here to tell you that it probably will not work. Gluten free processed foods are higher in fat, sugar and calories. If you want to lose weight on a gluten free diet, it is best to eat everything fresh and keep the boxed processed foods to a minimum.

If you are a new celiac or gluten sensitive and need help with managing your diet to keep you healthy, please do not hesitate to contact me to make an appointment. Having celiac disease myself, I am all too familiar with the up’s and downs of gluten free living!

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