what’s with all the gluten intolerances?? let me explain…

You might have read a column by a former colleague of mine Mia Freedman recently where she questioned people’s food intolerances, specifically gluten, and avoidance of certain foods, specifically sugar. Funnily, I’m both intolerant to gluten and had to quit sugar due to an autoimmune disease.

I was asked during Monday’s webinar for my thoughts. Which I shared. Sadly, it wasn’t saved (the webinar, that is…sorry!). And so I thought I’d post a more detailed response to some of the questions Mia asked, such as, Why so many intolerances? And, Why now? And, Really?

114752 1 600 what's with all the gluten intolerances?? let me explain...
Pic by Jason Schembri

First up. I agree with this point: evangelists are painful. Sharing of information is good. Being your message is ace. And, always, doing your own thing is cool. But preaching does no one favours.

But as David Gillespie wrote during the week on Twitter in reaction to the column, most folk who don’t eat gluten or sugar don’t talk about it….until they’re interrogated as to why they’re not eating their cake.

People want details. They want proof. They want to learn more. Sometimes they want to catch you out.

As to whether quitting sugar has merits…you can catch up here and here

As to whether gluten intolerances are valid, and to the issue of “why suddenly now”… well…I’m going to share facts. No evangelising.

what is gluten, and gluten intolerance?

Gluten’s a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut, and oats (to a lesser extent). Gluten sensitivity is an autoimmune disease that creates inflammation throughout the body, with wide-ranging effects across all organ systems.

A review paper in The New England Journal of Medicine listed 55 “diseases” that can be caused by eating gluten. including osteoporosis, irritable bowel disease, inflammatory bowel disease, anemia, cancer, fatigue, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and almost all other autoimmune diseases. Gluten is also linked to many psychiatric and neurological diseases, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, dementia, migraines, epilepsy, and neuropathy (nerve damage). It has also been linked to autism.

This WSJ article on how gluten sensitivity works is worth a read. 

where does celiac disease fit in? 

So we’re clear, celiac disease is a permanent intolerance to the gliadin part of gluten. It is genetic, and an inherited condition. Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition, where the body’s immune system starts attacking normal tissue, such as intestinal tissue, in response to eating gluten. This will continue as long as these food products are in the diet.

People with celiac disease are at risk for malabsorption of food, which cause nutritional deficiencies and may also result in conditions such as iron deficiency anemia, osteopenia, and osteoporosis.  People with a gluten intolerance usually do not have as severe intestinal damage, and therefore are not at high risk for these nutritional deficiencies.

Recently a large study was done with gluten sensitive patients, and celiac disease patients, as well as a number of control subjects. All were subjected to a gluten challenge for four months, followed by a gluten-free diet.

The findings were:

  •  the anti-gliadin antibody status is different for gluten-sensitivity versus celiac disease.
  • there’s no ‘leaky gut’ in gluten intolerant patients. This is specifically related to celiac disease.
  • none of the gluten intolerant patients had anti-wheat antibodies. The response to gluten is quite different from an allergic reaction to wheat.
  • in gluten-sensitive patients, gluten activates the ‘innate’ immune system – meaning that the protein is immediately recognised as foreign and toxic. Celiac disease involves activation of the ‘adaptive’ immune system, which initiates an autoimmune reaction.
  • Gluten-sensitivity in the absence of celiac disease is a real phenomenon, and can be clearly distinguished at a molecular level.
  • A gluten-free diet resulted in a relief from symptoms in gluten-sensitive patients within a few days, and this lasted for the whole 4 years of the study.

why is everyone quitting gluten now?

There are a number of very valid reasons for the growing number of people having to pass on the pizza.

The short form: gluten is a poison (see below). We tolerate it, and tolerate it, like cigarettes in the lungs. And then. One day. It’s too much. Things tip over and BANG we have lung cancer. Or gluten intolerance. Or celiac’s disease.

But more detail…and they’re facts, mind.

* We’re eating more wheat than ever before. Tried to eat lunch lately without wheat? Pizza, foccacias, turkish toasts, pasta… And noticed how BIG the bread-y bits are?

* And add to that: Wheat today contains more gluten than ever before. Spelt, for instance, is an ancient version of wheat. It’s low-gluten, as many of you know. But it was long abandoned for modified strains of wheat that contain more gluten. Why? Gluten is an insecticide (see below) so farmers like a strain of wheat that requires less pest control. Gluten makes for lighter, fluffier, Wonder Bread-ish baked goods…so bakers like the super gluten strains, too.

Bread’s been bred to be more… poisonous.

* And then there’s the Pottanger’s Cats theory. In the 1930s Francis Pottanger ran experiments on cats over 10 years and found that when he fed them the cat equivalent of McDonalds they got sick. He found the illnesses (including infertility and the same degenerative diseases we’re now seeing in humans) took several generations to kick in. And that it took four generations again of being fed good food for normal health to be restored.

The point being…intolerances haven’t just suddenly happened now.

They’ve built up and accumulated over the generations. Our grandparents started eating processed, high-wheat and gluten diets. Now we’re copping it.

* And so you know: A study comparing the blood of 10,000 people from 50 years ago to 10,000 people today found that the incidences of full-blown celiac disease has increased by 400 percent. Far more people have gluten sensitivity than you think. Celiac disease affects 1 in 100 people. But milder forms of gluten sensitivity are even more common and may affect up to one-third of the American population.

* Plus, for years people simply didn’t know they had gluten issues. It was put down to all kinds of other things. The symptoms are so very varied.

* And finally, the damage gluten does in our guts also leads to other auto immune diseases and intolerances (in case you’re also asking, Why’s everyone got auto immune diseases now). People with celiac disease are also more likely to have an autoimmune disorder. And people with an autoimmune disorder are more likely to be very sensitive to gluten…and so the cycle continues.

Add all this together. It’s a mess. A glutinous mess, right.

but back to beginnings: why is gluten so bad?

Grains, like wheat, are defenseless little things – the only way they can fight back against predators is via the poisons in their husks. Ergo, gluten. trans what's with all the gluten intolerances?? let me explain... Some creatures, like birds, are clearly adapted to overcome the defenses of gluten cereal grains. Most animals, including most mammals and our closest relatives the omnivorous fruit and insect-eating chimpanzees, are not adapted to grains and don’t eat them in substantial quantities.

The question is, are humans adapted? Nope. We have the same makeup as our primitive relatives who didn’t eat grains. The only thing that’s changed is our diet. Massively so.

You’re not gluten-sensitive? Still, your body strains to adjust to it in your system, one way or another. It’s a stressor, and it takes its toll somewhere. You just might not have tipped yet.

how does gluten poison?

1. It eats away at your gut lining. If the gut is damaged, you do not absorb nutrients.
2. It messes with the gall bladder and bile production. If you do not absorb fats and fat soluble nutrients such as vitamins A, D, K, and other nutrients, you will have problems utilizing any minerals you do absorb, to say nothing of the nutrient deficiencies from inadequate essential fats.
3. Phytates tightly bind to metal ions and make them unavailable for absorption.
4. All of which can lead to autoimmune disease and cancer. Once the gut lining is damaged, we are at exceptionally high risk of autoimmune disease, such as Hashimoto’s, and several types of cancer, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The pancreas is assailed by grain-induced inflammation due to CCK problems and elevated insulin levels. This inflammation is a potential cause of pancreatic cancer and pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas).

what’s my deal?

I have Hashimotos.

And it’s said up to 90 per cent of Hashimoto’s sufferers have celiacs disease

How’s this work? It’s a case of mistaken identity. The molecular structure of gliadin, the protein portion of gluten, closely resembles that of the thyroid gland. When gliadin breaches the protective barrier of the gut, and enters the bloodstream, the immune system tags it for destruction. These antibodies to gliadin also cause the body to attack thyroid tissue.

why not just do some good ole’ moderation?

This is my least favourite input to these kind of debates. Sometimes moderation is not possible. There’s no “80/20″ rule when it comes to gluten. Being “mostly” gluten-free ain’t going to cut it. Once you’ve tipped, the smallest amount triggers an autoimmune response. A drop of soy sauce, say. Even worse, the immune response to gluten (even just a crumb)  lasts up to 6 months each time.

come on, it’s not going to kill you.

Um, not correct. According to the journal Lancet (Vol 358, August 4, 2001) when someone with gluten intolerance eats gluten – even just a little – it increases their risk of death by 600 per cent.

Yes. 600 per cent.

I don’t know. If eating one particular food substance can risk this…well I’m going to ask if my Pad Thai has gluten in it. Bollocks the doubters.

Plus, a recent large study in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at almost 30,00 patients from 1969 to 2008 and found there was a 72 percent increased risk of death in those with gut inflammation related to gluten (but no celiac’s), and 35 percent increased risk in those with gluten sensitivity but no celiac disease.

well, why not just wear a “I’m celiac” sticker?

Testing for full-blown celiacs is highly problematic. Partly because it means going back on gluten for 6 weeks (so that antibodies are present), and partly because once your immune system is weakened it affects the accuracy of the tests.

Until there are better diagnostics, those of us with AI diseases don’t eat gluten. And share what we know and what helps.

great gluten-free chicks

Am I evangelising? I’ll stop now and just point you to a few great tweeps who share their tricks. For inspiration, follow Shauna James Ahern (@glutenfreegirl). Shauna also recommends: @SimplyGlutenFre @WholeGang @elanaspantry @sensitivepantry @jenncuisine @jennsutherland, @GingerLemonGirl @ATXglutenfree @newfoundceliac  @fourchickens

Over and out.

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