Gluten free products are becoming the new “fat free” as people are discovering that they feel better without gluten in their diets. For those who don’t know, gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Most people relate gluten intolerance to only those who have Celiac disease. However, a growing number of people are also finding that they have a gluten sensitivity, distinct from the symptoms related to Celiac disease, but also disruptive and potentially behind a number of health problems that develop down the road. While Celiac disease was once thought to be rare, effecting only 1% of the population, recent studies have shown that as many as 1 in 133 adults have Celiac disease, with a much higher number reporting gluten sensitivity (some believing 1 in 20 adults) making it a growing epidemic.
Unlike gluten sensitivity, Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the lining of the small intestine due to its inability to digest even the smallest amount of gluten. This not only produces a host of initial symptoms such as bloating, diarrhea and cramping, it can also lead to malnutrition due to the inability of the intestines to absorb the nutrients from food. Celiac disease can also cause premature intestinal cell death and oxidation, which can result in what’s called a “leaky gut” allowing toxins to enter into the bloodstream. Other commonly reported health problems associated with gluten intolerance include osteoporosis, IBS, anemia, cancer and other types of autoimmune disorders. However, a review done by the New England Journal of Medicine reported over 55 health conditions and diseases that can be caused by eating gluten, some of which include psychiatric and neurological disorders.
Gluten sensitivity, a much less understood condition, has been reported to include symptoms such as IBS-like stomach problems, bloating, headaches, fatigue, depression and others. Many just report feeling better when they remove gluten from their diet, the reason for which cannot be identified medically or agreed upon by experts. Loren Cordain, PhD and the author of The Paleo Diet, has gone so far as to create a complete diet system based on the Paleolithic period over 10,000 years ago, consisting of the foods we were biologically designed to eat such as lean meats, fish, poultry, fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds. He suggests avoiding dairy, refined and processed foods, sugar, as well as eliminating all grains. Due to the high glycemic index of most wheat containing grains (a serving of whole wheat bread is said to have a higher index then table sugar), you’ll be able to normalize your insulin levels by avoiding them. This will in turn make you less prone to high blood sugar related diseases as well as weight problems. Additionally, it is said that the opioid peptides present in wheat can influence neurotransmitters in the brain and may contribute to food and wheat addiction.