How Gluten Affects Your Gut
Is gluten bad for our health? So many people are going gluten-free today in hopes of losing weight, boosting energy and feeling healthier. But is gluten really that harmful?
What is Gluten?
Gluten is the protein in cereal grains such as wheat, barley and rye. It is located in the endosperm, the part of the grain that produces the seeds, and it is ground to make flour. Gluten has elastic and binding properties which affect the chewiness of baked products like cookies and breads. In the modern age of preserved foods, gluten is added to millions of pre-packaged products to sustain a soft texture.
Why Can’t People with Celiac Disease Eat Gluten?
When people with celiac disease ingest gluten, it destroys the lining of their small intestine. They cannot tolerate gluten in any amount. Even eating one cracker containing a few milligrams of the protein can cause a reaction. Continued exposure to gluten can lead to nutrient malabsorption, osteoporosis, infertility, nerve damage and seizures.
Some people are not allergic to gluten, but they may have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, which means they have a low tolerance for gluten. Individuals with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) are not at risk for long-term intestinal damage, but may experience fatigue, diarrhea and joint pain. NCGS seems to be more common in females and young to middle-aged adults.
Why are Gluten Allergies so Common Today?
Although wheat has been the major grain consumed by humans for generations, the wheat we grow today is different than the wheat grown even a decade ago. As available arable land decreases, wheat strains have been chemically hybridized and genetically altered to resist drought and increase production on limited acreage. Scientists are still researching the health effects of genetically modified wheat, but it seems that there may be a direct connection between “modern wheat” and the rise in gluten intolerance and celiac disease (source: Live Science).
Additionally, we are consuming more grains than we did in past generations. Grains and starches rapidly break down into sugars, which increase insulin levels and can contribute to inflammation. Perhaps our digestive systems are not designed to metabolize such high levels of sugar.
What if I Suspect I Have Celiac Disease?
If you think you may have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, make an appointment with a gastroenterologist to discuss your symptoms. Your doctor can verify gluten intolerance with a simple blood test that detects antibodies against a protein called tissue transglutaminase. If you are diagnosed with a gluten allergy, you can begin receiving the counseling and treatment you need to manage your symptoms and heal your digestive system.