‘Gluten-free’ is becoming a more common descriptor every day. The question is: what exactly is gluten and why are we steering clear of it?
Gluten is the protein composite found in wheat, barley and rye. Non-contaminated oats do not contain gluten, but are more often than not processed in facilities that also process the three aforementioned gluten-containing grains.
Gluten can trigger an immune response in certain individuals. In cases of celiac disease, a condition in which the body produces antibodies specific to gluten, an autoimmune response is set off and the body attacks its own tissues (specifically the ‘villi’ or small hair-like projections in the small intestine responsible for food/nutrient absorption). If a gluten-free diet is not observed, celiac disease can develop into more serious disorders such as malabsorption, osteoporosis and even cancer. Currently, 1 in 133 Americans test positive for celiac disease; the incidence having increased fourfold in the last fifty years. Joseph A. Murray, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, stated “People aren’t born with this. Something triggers it and with this dramatic rise in all ages, it must be something pervasive in the environment”. He cites agricultural changes to wheat (which boost its protein content) as being a possible culprit.
Gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance is the diagnosis given to those who test negative for celiac disease, but still react poorly to gluten. This condition is more common than celiac disease and is observed in 1 in 20 Americans. There is a wide range of symptoms associated with gluten sensitivity: digestive disturbance (though not the damaged intestinal villi resultant of the autoimmune response seen in celiac disease), headaches/migraines, fatigue/lethargy, joint pain, body aches, ‘brain fog’, anxiety, depression, and neurological symptoms seen in multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. There is recent research that has shown marked improvements in children diagnosed with autism and ADHD when gluten was removed from their food regimen.
So…now what? If you are gluten intolerant, a gluten-free regimen will greatly help you. For others, reducing gluten in your diet will benefit you. Overconsumption of anything decreases the efficiency of your digestion and moderation is always a smart move! As with any change in diet, it can be a difficult process at first. There will most likely be cravings and the ever-present query: ‘what can I eat?!’. Relax and simply remain conscious of what you are eating. If you have any questions about gluten sensitivity, you can always ask us, your friends at TCRA.