Are You Gluten Sensitive?
Gluten Sensitivity is a Rising
Health Concern in America
by Edward Bauman, M.Ed., Ph.D.
and Jodi Friedlander, MS, NC
Natural Weight Loss
Program recommended by The Share Guide
Most of us have intense emotional attachments to bread, cookies, and pasta, which are usually made from wheat flour. We reach for these foods when we are feeling happy or sad, lonely or tired, in health and in sickness. Eating bread is both filling on the physical plane and fulfilling on an emotional level. Because gluten can cause discomfort and/or serious health issues in some people, the Eating for Health™ approach encourages people to depend largely on non-gluten grains, such as millet, quinoa, brown rice, buckwheat, and non-GMO corn. These delicious grains not only do not provoke the negative effects that come from a reaction to the gluten found in wheat, rye, barley, and sometimes oats, they also add to the variety of foods we eat, increasing the diversity of our nutrient sources.
Gluten is just one of many proteins found in wheat. Comprised of two protein groups—gliadin and glutenin—gluten gives wheat its strength, malleability, and the elasticity that allows it to rise. The gliadin portion, the most studied protein fraction, has been recognized since the 1960’s as the cause of the intestinal damage seen in Celiac Disease. But other proteins found in wheat, rye and barley (and collectively referred to as gluten) can cause damage. Wheat, however, is considered the main culprit because hybridization efforts have increased its gluten content to levels never before experienced by mankind.
The most common immune-based reaction to wheat and other gluten grains is Celiac Disease. This is a genetically inherited sensitivity to gluten that causes destruction of parts of the small intestine, resulting in severe malabsorption of nutrients. It can also damage other parts of the body.
Classic Celiac Disease symptoms can include:
* Recurring abdominal bloating and pain
* Chronic diarrhea
* Pale, foul-smelling, or fatty stool
* Weight loss or weight gain
* Unexplained anemia
* Bone or joint pain
The following symptoms may also occur:
* Behavioral changes
* Tingling numbness in the legs (from nerve damage)
* Missed menstrual periods
* Infertility/Recurrent miscarriage
* Pale sores inside the mouth (called aphthous ulcers)
* Tooth discoloration or loss of enamel
* Itchy skin rash (called dermatitis herpetiformis)
Additionally, gluten can cause other delayed immune system reactions that are not Celiac Disease but can be equally damaging. And gluten, even in the absence of an immune reaction, is still inflammatory and can damage internal organs and tissues.
One of the better known problems with grains, especially wheat, is that people can be intolerant. Intolerance to wheat does not elicit an immune response. It may be caused by an enzyme deficiency or by undigested food particles that create bacterial fermentation in the colon with its resulting uncomfortable symptoms. Whether intolerance is a separate issue or an immune response waiting to happen is not clear.
People can also be allergic to any type of grain. However, because of the vast quantities we consume, it is wheat that causes most of these reactions. Wheat contains many different proteins, over 100, in fact, and true allergies are mostly to proteins other than gluten. These allergies are acute immune responses and can produce fairly quick life-threatening reactions, such as anaphylaxis. More frequently they produce skin (hives, eczema), gastrointestinal (cramps, nausea) or respiratory tract (asthma, rhinitis) symptoms. These symptoms can also be brought on in susceptible individuals when exercise is begun within three hours of ingesting wheat. Allergies may be present with or without a family history and, as with Celiac Disease and other intolerances, they are treated with a gluten-free diet.
If a gluten sensitivity or intolerance is suspected, a period of gluten elimination can be undertaken to explore this possibility. This is the simplest, least expensive and least invasive means of testing and may be sufficient for those with gastrointestinal or neurological symptoms, in other words, for those with obvious symptoms. Eliminating all gluten-containing foods, supplements and medications for two weeks to a month should provide enough time for symptoms to resolve. If celiac disease is the problem, reintroduction of gluten will produce dramatic symptoms. For those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity, they may find they can eat small amounts of gluten after the period of abstention.
Eliminating all gluten from the diet, however, can be a great challenge, as gluten is a common ingredient in most processed foods. It is best to eat whole, unprocessed foods, and consult with a nutrition professional for education and support. If being gluten-free is determined to be a long-term requirement, it is a good idea to join a support group to ease the withdrawal from wheat, which can be very addictive.
The next phase for a gluten-intolerant individual is the healing process, the goal of which is to rebalance the digestive tract and correct the intestinal damage that is a consequence of gluten intolerance. This can be accomplished under the supervision of a nutrition professional. Steps include: removing the problem; replacing the hydrochloric acid and pancreatic enzymes that are most likely in short supply; reinoculating with the good bacteria necessary for intestinal health; and repairing the damage done to the gastrointestinal mucosa.
Edward Bauman, M.Ed., Ph.D. NC, Board Registered, is the director of Bauman College. Jodi Friedlander, MS, NC, Board Registered is a Bauman College distance learning mentor. Learn more at www.baumancollege.org.
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