Hippocrates: “All disease begins in the gut.”
Gluten is a controversial topic these days. To cut to the chase, gluten can affect nearly every tissue in the body, including the brain, skin, endocrine system, stomach, liver, blood vessels, smooth muscles, and even the nuclei of cells. What is it? It’s one of several proteins that is found in wheat. Gliadins and glutenins are the two main components of the gluten fraction of the wheat seed. Basically, these components are what allow breads to rise during baking and to preserve foods in many cases. Within the gliadin class of wheat, there are four different types of proteins, which are alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and omega-gliadin. Wheat also contains agglutinins, which are proteins that bind to sugar, and prodynorphins, which are proteins involved with cellular communication. Once wheat is consumed, up to 6 different enzymes in the digestive tract called tissue transglutaminases (tTG) break down the wheat compound and forms additional proteins. Are you still reading? I promise it’s useful information…
Most people assume that if you don’t have Celiac’s Disease, then you don’t need to worry about including gluten in your diet or going gluten-free. Celiac’s Disease is an autoimmune disease characterized by an inflammatory immune response to wheat gluten, rye, barley, and related proteins. It results in the disruption of the normal gut tissue structure, including atrophy of the villi and an enlargement of intestinal crypts where new epithelial cells form from stem cells. However, it’s not so black and white. The problem with testing for Celiac’s Disease is that the test only tests for the alpha- gliaden and transglutaminase 2 (tTG2). Remember, there are 4 different types of proteins found in wheat and 6 different enzymes, which means there is a lot of room for error or misdiagnosis. Basically, you’ll test negative for Celiac’s Disease and gluten intolerance no matter how severely you’re reacting to wheat. There is a spectrum that can range from being completely gluten-tolerant to suffering from full-blown Celiac’s Disease. On this spectrum, there is a term that broadly covers a whole range of conditions/symptoms related to gluten and wheat.
This term is called Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity, or NCGS. NCGS is a response to wheat or gluten ingestion, but in the form of gut discomfort, systemic pain, fatigue, neurological issues, and worsening of autoimmune conditions. Research demonstrates that nearly 1 out of every 10 individuals can have Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. Here’s a list of conditions linked to NCGS:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Dermatitis and other skin conditions
- Multiple sclerosis
- Peripheral neuropathy, myopathy, and other neurological disorders
- Type 1 diabetes
- Autism spectrum disorders
- Ménière disease
- Insulin resistance and inflammation
This is reason enough to avoid gluten and wheat all together, in my opinion.
-However, here is the best way determine if you have gluten intolerance or wheat intolerance:
- Remove all gluten-containing foods and products from your diet for 60 days
- At the end of the 60 day period, cook up a bowl of barley (gluten-containing), eat it,
and see what happens.
- A few days later, eat a piece of wheat bread. See what happens.
– If you react to barley, that suggests you’re intolerant of gluten or other gluten-like compounds. If you don’t react to barley, but you do react to the wheat bread, that suggests you are intolerant to something in wheat specifically.
To be clear, not all disease is caused by gluten. There are certainly other health conditions that could cause gluten intolerance or Celiac’s Disease. However, there are many links between gluten and other health conditions. If you suffer from chronic pain, autoimmune conditions, digestive issues, and arthritis, then replacing gluten and wheat with more vegetables and good quality fats and proteins could help ease your symptoms.
Adam Gloyeske, LAc