Clients ask, “Why am I suddenly hearing so much about gluten these days?” They see ‘Gluten-Free’ on packages and even on restaurant menus. ‘Gluten-Sensitivity’ is a common topic in many health magazines and on websites. If you’re curious about gluten and how it may effect your health please read further. If you’d like to include some non-gluten grains in your diet check out the wonderful gluten free offerings at the Beaches Bake Shop.
Gluten is the substance that gives dough its elasticity and makes breads chewy. Gluten resides in the endosperm of most seeds in the grain family. Gluten proteins reside in all wheat species (durum, semolina, spelt, kamut, triticale, einkorn, emmer, graham, malt, couscous, seitan, bulgur, farro, and additionally, wheat’s first cousins, rye and barley).
What you may already know is that people with Celiac Disease cannot tolerate gluten, not even in very small amounts. “Their bodies regard even a tiny crumb of it as a malicious invader and mount an immune response,” says Alessio Fasano, M.D., medical director of the University of Maryland Center for Celiac Research in Baltimore. For someone with Celiac disease gluten can wreak severe damage to the intestinal wall causing mal-absorption, and may trigger an immune response associated with an increase of inflammation in the body. Untreated, these responses can then lead to intestinal cancers as well as complications such as infertility and osteoporosis. Symptoms associated with true Celiac disease or gluten intolerance include diarrhea, particularly fowl smelling gas (usually a symptom of mal-absorption), fatty stools, and a host of other autoimmune and inflammatory responses.
The term ‘gluten sensitivity’ is controversial. For years the medical community did not recognize non-Celiac gluten sensitivity, however experts are beginning to acknowledge that it may affect as many as 10 million Canadians (Fasano). Often non-Celiac gluten intolerance mimics the same symptomology of Celiac disease but is often left untreated once Celiac disease is ruled out.
We don’t understand yet why so many people have become sensitive to gluten. There are different theories. Canadian’s have come to consume a fifth of their calories in the form of bleached, refined wheat flour. Some specialists suggest that as humans we no longer consume the same grains and varieties as our ancestors. It has been theorized that our bodies react as if the grains we eat are ‘foreign’ (read invaders). It has also been suggested that farmers now cultivate so few varieties of wheat in huge tracts, spraying them with pesticides, and storing them in enormous silos, that they harbour moulds and other toxins.
In my practice I am unable to diagnose gluten sensitivity but I do at times suggested a client take a two week gluten-holiday to see if gut symptoms (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) or pain levels decrease, and if the symptoms resurface with the reintroduction of gluten. It seems that gluten proteins have a direct effect on the inflammatory cascade. In her article Gluten intolerance and celiac disease — Should you be concerned? Marcelle Pick, OB/GYN NP, suggests that “inflammatory and autoimmune responses which arise from gluten sensitivity can impact your brain, muscles, skin, and bones, your liver and heart, and your endocrine system”. An elimination diet is a safe way to determine food sensitivities.
I recommend clients eat whole foods and lots of them when eliminating gluten grains. Some gluten-free products are refined and are therefore problematic with regard to blood sugar levels and B-vitamins. I recommend you seek care from a health professional who can ensure you’re getting a proper balance of nutrients while attempting a dietary change. Often I see people eliminate entire food groups in order to feel better without realizing they’re doing more harm than good. As a Dietitian I want to ensure a client meets all her vitamin and mineral requirements, especially when taking on an elimination diet.
There is much to learn about gluten sensitivity. Some experts suggest that the removal of gluten can improve the symptoms of fibromyalgia, depression, arthritis, MS, schizophrenia and all types of gut problems. In my practice I’ve seen dramatic improvement in stubborn symptoms when gluten is removed from the diet. I’m curious what the science will say in the future but for now eliminating gluten with the help of a health care practitioner may help you to feel better.
Kelly Greer BASc RD