Gluten is a substance present in wheat that is responsible for the elastic texture of dough. It is a mixture of 2 proteins – glutenin and gliadin. Gluten is a staple of the American diet and most of us unknowingly love it because it gives our favorite foods that special touch. It makes pizza dough stretchy, gives bread its spongy texture, and is used to thicken sauces. Cereals, breads, crackers, beers, desserts, and processed foods all contain gluten. Gluten can cause illness in people with celiac disease, an autoimmune disease, but even those without celiac disease should consider avoiding it as it can cause serious health complications.
A large percentage of people with either celiac disease or gluten intolerance are never even diagnosed and are unaware that their body even has a problem with eating gluten. While celiac disease is the extreme end of the broader gluten-intolerance spectrum, millions of Americans suffer from what is known as nonceliac gluten sensitivity.
Gluten sensitivity is actually an autoimmune disease that creates inflammation throughout the entire body and can have wide-ranging effects on all organ systems, including your brain, heart, joints, and digestive tract. Symptoms of gluten sensitivity include stomach cramps, diarrhea, bloating, and fatigue soon after eating gluten. Acne or other skin rashes may also appear. Extra skin on the back of your arms (caused by malabsoption because of gluten’s damage to the gut), autoimmune disorders such as thyroid conditions, neurologic symptoms, and hormone imbalances are also signs of a gluten intolerance.
One of the most common conditions caused by gluten sensitivity is the “leaky gut.” The proteins in gluten are gut irritants like a papercut or splinter digging in to the lining of your gut that lead to inflammation. Inflammation is the natural response of your immune system to injury. This inflammation is dangerous because it can lead to intestinal permeability. The gut has a complex system of “border control” that lets digested food into the bloodstream while keeping everything else out. Inflammation from gluten loosens the junctions between cells in the gut wall so too much stuff passes through into your blood stream, resulting in a “leaky gut.”
Other diseases linked to gluten include osteoporosis, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, anemia, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and almost all autoimmune disorders. Gluten has also been linked to neurological diseases, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, dementia, and epilepsy.
Most of the wheat that is consumed today has been milled into white flour that is full of gluten. While dietary patterns have changed drastically in the past century, our genes have not and the human body has not evolved to consume a modern Western diet full of sugary substances and refined, high-calorie carbohydrates.
To determine whether a gluten sensitivity exists, a functional medicine doctor will consider lifestyle, including dietary habits, and will conduct a series of blood tests to determine whether antibody levels reveal any form of gluten allergies or sensitivity. Heath problems caused by gluten sensitivity cannot be treated with medication. Rather, they are resolved by making healthy eating choices and eliminating gluten from your diet. Supplements, such as probiotics, prebiotics, digestive enzymes, certain amino acids, and other netraceutical (food containing health additives with medicinal benefits) products may also be recommended to help heal the gut. Cleansing your body of gluten can result in weight loss, increased energy level and mental focus, and overall better health.
J. Gruber Health Solutions is a functional medicine practice in Denver, Colorado with extensive experience in testing and treating various levels of gluten insensitivity, including celiac disease. Dr. Gruber offers a patient-centered approach to medicine and his ultimate goal is to increase the overall health of the patient. If you think you may have gluten sensitivity, contact us today at 303-746-1964.