What is gluten?
Gluten is a group of proteins found in wheat, rye, and barley, that directly threatens the health of more than 2 million Americans who unknowingly suffer from celiac, an autoimmune disease.
For these people, continuing to eat gluten leads to intolerable symptoms that can become life-threatening. But even if you don’t have celiac disease, gluten can be problematic and even dangerous.
Scientists don’t entirely know why some people react badly to gluten, while others tolerate it, but it seems to be genetic. Medical researchers are still busy trying to understand precisely how gluten does its damage in the human body.
The fact of the matter is that some people will go for years, even decades, suffering from strange or intolerable symptoms that they can’t pin down. But how do you know for sure if you suffer from adverse reactions to gluten? Some of the significant red flags signaling gluten intolerance are digestive symptoms such as gas, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. But these symptoms can also be due to any number of alternate causes. One possible way to test whether your health complaints are, in fact, due to gluten is to remove all gluten containing foods from your diet and monitor the progress of your symptoms.
If they clear up, you may have your answer. If your health doesn’t improve after a gluten-free period, your symptoms may nonetheless still stem from gluten reaction, but as part of a more complex picture of your health.
Nearly every person has some level of gluten sensitivity, and the digestive discomfort associated with gluten reaction may be only one part of the puzzle. You may find through medical testing that your symptoms are due to other food sensitivities, parasites, abnormal bacterial overgrowth, and neurological or emotional triggers.
Also, many gluten-sensitive people do not experience digestive symptoms but instead develop neurological or immune symptoms. The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is rich with neurological, hormonal, and immune system components, so damage to the GI tract because of gluten reactions can have major impacts throughout your body.
Blood testing and allergen testing can determine whether you have a gluten intolerance or celiac disease, which damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents certain nutrients from being absorbed.
Choosing Gluten-Free Alternatives
Because there is no straightforward test to distinguish between highly sensitive people and those who are mildly sensitive, complete avoidance of gluten-containing foods is the universal recommendation to heal gluten problems. However, gluten is often hidden in foods or not listed in the ingredients, so you need to become a careful label reader to keep gluten out of your meals.
If a product is labeled as “wheat-free,” it may not be gluten-free. To be safe, the label must be explicitly marked as “gluten-free.” Also, many other types of foods, such as nuts or beans, are packaged in the same plant as gluten-containing foods, which can contribute to cross- contamination and induce allergies. Thanks to the growing demand for gluten-free foods, many manufacturers now are clearly labeling their products for gluten-free consumers.
Targeted Digestive Support
To reduce the inflammation and damage caused not just by gluten, but by several other pro-inflammatory foods, you need to eliminate sugar, alcohol, processed foods, and dairy. It can be helpful to supplement with targeted botanicals and nutrients.
Ingredients like tangerine peel, cardamom, ginger, zinc, chromium, and others can help reduce inflammation, repair the intestinal lining, improve nutrient assimilation, relieve digestive discomfort, and promote healthy microbial balance.
Our knowledge of gluten sensitivity and its many complications is continually evolving as the gluten-free movement gains a significant foothold within conventional and integrative medicine. The avoidance of gluten has restored the health of millions of people, sometimes quickly and at other times more gradually. If you feel you have issues with gluten, remember always to follow your gut and get appropriate testing to increase awareness of your own health and wellness.
This makes it easy to see why there is a big question mark surrounding gluten, especially when doctors are less likely to advise on anything that they can’t diagnosis. If you suspect gluten could be at the root of your problems, you may have to do some digging on your own.
While researchers used to believe that celiac, the autoimmune reaction to gluten, was a problem that always appeared in younger people, they now know that you can develop a gluten problem at any age. As far as researchers know, you can be gluten-tolerant today and, for some unknown reason, wake up tomorrow with a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease.
When you suffer a health problem like celiac, it is a disease, not an allergy. Allergies cause reactions to things like pollen, peanuts, dairy, and eggs. An allergic reaction is a direct immune response to an allergen. For instance, inhale pollen, and you sneeze it out.
In contrast, when you have celiac, your immune system is inflamed, and the immune cells attack the body itself. In many cases of celiac, the immune system attacks the intestinal walls and destroys the sections that absorb nutrients. That can lead to anemia, osteoporosis, and other diseases that result from nutrient malabsorption.
Even though wheat may be the most common source of gluten in the American diet, it isn’t the only one. Foods containing barley (like malted milk and beer) are also rich in gluten. So is rye bread. And foods that should be naturally gluten-free may be cross-contaminated with gluten. For example, some packages of oats and beans may note that they are processed in a plant that also handles wheat. In that case, there may be gluten present in the beans even though beans are a naturally gluten-free food. French fries at many fast food places may contain gluten from seasonings or be contaminated from frying oil that unintentionally contains gluten from other foods.
Gluten has been connected to 300 different symptoms, including depression, anxiety, headaches, ataxia (difficulties controlling muscle movement), brain fog, arthritis, thyroid malfunction, and skin rashes.
Gluten may even cause the immune system to attack the brain and nerves. There are reports of gluten, causing Alzheimer’s-like symptoms and mental illness. So if you’re only considering how your gut feels, when the rest of your body is suffering, you’re hurting yourself.
If you suffer from gluten intolerance, it’s a mistake to think you can eat some bread or other food containing gluten once in a while as a treat. Gluten difficulties are diseases. If you react to gluten, there is no such thing as a safe level of gluten exposure. Giving gluten entirely up is the only safe course of action.