Gluten Free: Fad or Science?

Gluten-free foods continue to gain in popularity.  It is no longer strange to hear someone ask for gluten free items on a menu at a restaurant.  In fact, most restaurants have changed their menus to make gluten-free choices obvious to the consumer.  Still, there are many people who think that this is non-sense and just another way for BigFood to make more money off of people.  There continues to be those who think that unless you are allergic to gluten and have Celiac’s Disease, that gluten is not a problem.  Is this true?  Is there any science to back up this gluten-free craze?

First of all let’s take a look at gluten a little closer.  Gluten is known to mostly be found in wheat, but it is present in an insane amounts of foods.  The best way to start learning about these foods is to visit www.celiac.org.  However, another thing to know is that gluten is much different here in the United States than in other places.  We do 3 things to the gluten protein structure that has made it more of an enemy in the eyes of our immune systems.

#1 Hybridization 

We have combined different gluten proteins to create a new type of gluten and this predominates what is found in US food products.  The problem is that when our immune systems do not recognize this new protein structure, then it decides to attack it and cause destruction both within our guts and elsewhere in our body.  To be clear, there is no GMO gluten in the US, rather it has been hybridized.  GMO means that the DNA was altered by scientists to create something new.  Hybridized means that two different varieties of plants were crossbred to form a new version.  This, in effect, alters the natural gluten structure and has caused problems for us.

#2 Deamidization

This means that they have chemically changed the structure of the gluten protein molecule so that they can use it as a binder in foods.  Again, helpful for the production of fake foods, but not so helpful to our immune systems.  Remember, that anything the immune system sees as foreign it will likely attack.  And this deamidated version of gluten presents as another enemy to our immune system.

These two changes are precisely why someone who is sensitive to gluten in the United States can travel to Italy and eat bread there without any GI complications.  Unfortunately the United States is one of the worst places when it comes to allowing BigFood to alter and produce foods that are terrible for us.  And why gluten-free has become mainly a US phenomenon.

#3 Glycophosphate

Which brings us to another consideration when it comes to gluten-sensitivity and the United States.  Glycophosphate is another reason why we are finding gluten reactions are becoming more prevelant.  Glycophosphate is basically Round-up.  Monsanto’s baby and potentially one of the most devastating things added to our food products.  It is a herbicide, but causes MASSIVE damage to human health.  This product can bind to the gluten protein which creates a new structure.  When our immune system sees this new and unrecognized protein structure it begins to attack it.  So even if you don’t react to the gluten protein molecule itself, you now react to this new gluten-glycophosphate protein molecule.  Yet another great thing that we have decided is OK to add to our crops.  It is so bad that countries such as France have outlawed the use of this chemical on any of their crops country-wide!  Yet, we seem to think that it is not harming our health.  There is a big reason why organic foods are becoming so much more common!

 

Beyond these changes there is still the common belief that only those with Celiac disease should worry.  However, we have another disease category that is called non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity.   These individuals do not have an ‘allergy’, but their immune systems are reacting to gluten and causing a little GI war every time it is ingested.  This can be highly problematic since these people continue to ingest gluten multiple times daily and don’t realize that many of their symptoms are due to the gluten itself.  This can be joint pain, brain fog, irregular bowel movements, fatigue, and on and on.  I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve had who removed offending foods like gluten and pain levels dramatically reduce.  Yet many people continue to go back to gluten despite seeing amazing results when it is removed.

**Tip to Remember**

Immune system activation from gluten is not dose dependent.  What does that mean?  It means that if your immune system is reacting to the gluten protein then it doesn’t matter if you have an entire piece of wheat bread or small amounts of gluten found in your salad dressing.  Your immune system is going to react the same way and can create an equal amount of damage.  Second, in some cases, the cascade of events triggered in the immune system by ingesting gluten can last many months with just one exposure.  This means that you should not think that eating gluten just once a week is OK.  Many times this can be enough to keep inflammation in the gut constant and create an intestinal war zone.

Understand that the research on gluten impacting health negatively is out there everywhere.  BigFood does not like to have their profits diminished and so they will do whatever they can to try and tell you that gluten-free is just a fad.  Don’t believe it.  Avoiding gluten is a big way to improve your current and long-term health.  It is only one piece of the puzzle, but one that is pretty easy to say that everyone (at least in the United States) will do better without it in their diet.  Try it and you’ll see!