Gluten, Why are you so Annoying?
I’m surprised that gluten-free is still going strong and growing rather than fizzling out like most fads. Maybe its not a fad, maybe its actually linked to our gut microflora shifting and changing overtime and what we could once tolerate is no longer the case. While an astounding low portion of the population have celiac disease, about 1%, the number of people that have an adverse reaction to gluten is on the rise.
Since the industrial revolution the production of food and our access to food has dramatically shifted. Not only that, but our gut flora has been hugely impacted by the change in diet. For more on that check out the amazing work being done by the American Gut project. With the increase in processed foods there has been a downward trend in the amount of fiber in the standard American diet. I am sure you have heard that fiber = healthy diet and most of us associate fiber with regularity. But fiber does much more than help regulate bowel movements, it actually feeds our gut bacteria and makes it stronger. This is important because our gut bacteria builds our immune system and helps the body distinguish between what is good and what is harmful. Celiac is an auto-immune disorder, meaning our bodies see something that is not harmful as a BIG problem and so they attack! In the case of food sensitivities, the same thing is happening. There is an immune response, or an attack, against something that is perceived as a threat, the reaction is not as aggressive as an allergic response, but it could lead to some uncomfortable symptoms.
Food allergens are typically proteins, built from amino acids which come from the majority of foods we eat; meat, milk, eggs and plant protein. Each protein has a specific compound that is responsible for breaking it down in the body. After the proteins are broken down, the digestive tract is responsible for deciding if the proteins are harmful or not. It can be challenging to test for these specific sensitivities and is typically diagnosed through symptoms and signs occurring reproducibly on exposure to food. The most common food protein sensitivities are gluten and cow’s milk.
We know that as you age, intestinal lactase, what your body uses to process dairy, declines. This would explain the larger amount of people who are lactose intolerant. But what about gluten? How did something that was basically unheard of 10 years ago become so popular? I believe a lot of this relates to our gut flora and how we feed our bodies. With massive shifts in the composition of our gut flora, there is a decreased ability of the body to recognize what is harmful and what is not. So how do we combat this? We focus on improving the health of the good little critters living in our digestive tract. I posted some tips for healing the gut in my last article, you can check that out here.
I would love to hear about your takes on gluten, how your body interacts with it and what you have found to be helpful to soothe or ease symptoms.