What is gluten? We hear about it all the time. We read that it is found in many foods. But you will also find shelves full of gluten free things like crackers, potato chips, cupcakes and even pizza dough. So why do we need food to be free of this ingredient? What is so wrong with it that huge amounts of advertising dollars are spent on promoting a gluten free product?
We'll start at the beginning. Gluten is a type of protein found in wheat and other grains. It was discovered centuries ago by people looking for a meat substitute. These folks figured out that if they dropped the dough in water, the natural starch washed away. What was left was a thick lump that looked kind of like meat. And as we mentioned, was loaded with protein.
In more recent times gluten is used in bread and pastry to give it that sort of chewy taste and to hold the dough together. It helps the bread rise as well. It is also added to foods that are low in protein on their own.
We also see gluten actually cooked in broths or other vegetable mixtures. It absorbs some of the liquid and the taste and becomes firm when you eat it. In fact the list of items containing gluten is very large.
But the question "What is gluten?" also has a newer answer because the grain we consume now is far different than the grains that flourished in the fields centuries ago.
Grain today is highly processed, which tends to strip away many of the vital nutrients. And we face a challenge that wasn't present decades ago. Massive doses of pesticides are added to many grain products now. In our role as living lab experiments, the answer to "What is gluten?" may have very serious implications.
Through some empowering books, I've discovered just how little I really understood about gluten and the effects on multiple systems in our human bodies.
According to the University of Chicago's Celiac Disease Center, one in 133 people are diagnosed with celiac disease. This condition and gluten intolerance symptoms are very similar. Abdominal pain, vomiting, loss of weight, vitamin deficiencies and nausea are just a few. In many cases victims internal systems are unable to absorb food, causing weight loss.
Too much gluten in a diet can be a cause of these two conditions. For people who have been diagnosed with celiac disease, avoiding gluten is essential.
People who react negatively to eating gluten do not always do so because of any food allergy. Actually celiac disease is an auto immune disorder. When the body responds to sensing gluten in the system, it develops a plan to fight the gluten intake. This can damage the small intestine and lead to other problems.
Leaky gut syndrome has been linked to gluten consumption in some people. When they eat gluten, a protein is triggered that can create spaces in the stomach walls. This is called leaky gut syndrome and leads to other health challenges. Here is a link with more information about gluten's role in gut microbe health.
Some studies have indicated the glyphosate, labeled as a "probable carcinogen" and the flagship pesticide of the Monsanto conspiracy could increase the risks of gut-related diseases.
Dr. David Perlmutter, author of "Grain Brain" goes into quite a bit of detail on the subject of "What is gluten?" in relation to brain health.
He writes, " Let me share what Dr. Rodney Ford of the Children's Gastroenterology and Allergy Clinic in New Zealand proposed in his 2009 article aptly titled 'The Gluten Syndrome: A Neurological Disease.' The fundamental problem with gluten is it's 'interference with the body's neural networks...gluten is linked to neurological harm in patients, both with and without evidence of celiac disease.'
He added, 'Evidence points to the nervous system as the prime site of gluten damage,' and he boldly concluded that 'the implication of gluten causing neurological network damage is immense.'
With estimates that at least one in ten people are affected by gluten, the health impact is enormous. Understanding the gluten syndrome is important for the health of the global community."
Dr. Perlmutter continues, "Remember, at the heart of of virtually every disorder and disease is inflammation. When we introduce anything to the body that triggers an inflammatory response, we set ourselves up for taking on much greater risk for a medley of health challenges, from chronic daily nuisances like headaches and brain fog to serious aliments such as depression and Alzheimer's.
We can even make a case for linking gluten sensitivity with some of the most mysterious brain disorders that eluded doctors for millennia, such as schizophrenia, epilepsy, depression, bipolar disorder, and, more recently autism and ADHD.
Research has shown that the immune system's response to gluten leads to activation of signaling molecules that basically turn on inflammation ...which leads to increased production of inflammatory chemicals....
High levels of another inflammatory molecule called TNF alpha have also been seen in celiac patients. Elevations of this cytokine are among the hallmarks of Alzheimer's disease and virtually every other neurodegenerative condition.
Bottom line: Gluten sensitivity-with or without the presence of celiac-increases the production of inflammatory cytokines, and these inflammatory cytokines are pivotal players in neurodegenerative conditions. Moreover, no organ is more susceptible to the deleterious effects of inflammation than the brain.
When I watch people devour gluten-laden carbohydrates, it's like watching them pour themselves a cocktail of gasoline. Gluten is our generation's tobacco. Gluten sensitivity is far more prevalent than we realize-potentially harming all of us to some degree without our knowing it-and gluten is hiding where you least suspect it.
It's in our seasoning, condiments. and cocktails, and even in cosmetics, hand creams, and ice cream. It's disguised in soups, sweeteners, and soy products. It's tucked into our nutritional supplements and brand-name pharmaceuticals."
Dr. Perlmutter only touched on a small segment of the items in which gluten can be found. In his book, the complete list is several pages long.
In a previous page I asked which food item produced a bigger sugar high.
* Snickers bar
* One slice of whole wheat bread
* One tablespoon of pure white sugar
I'll freely admit that I got this one wrong too. The answer is that slice of whole wheat bread. All grains lead to temporary sugar highs. When gluten is broken down in the stomach, it is transformed into a mix of poly-peptides that are capable of passing through the protective blood-brain barrier. In the same way that opium binds to the brain's morphine receptor, this gluten byproduct does as well. With similar effects.
Major food companies know this to be true. It is in their best financial interest to load up foods with any substance that can become habit-forming.
In our page about leptin resistance, you read about what happens when insulin signals are rendered useless. Type 2 diabetes is often following close behind.
While celiac disease is the most extreme version of gluten intolerance, newer research is telling us that gluten may have more far-reaching effects on many people than previously considered.
The hope would be that truly independent research would shine some light on questions like "What is gluten?" But sadly, the money trail too often dictates the research results.
As our own best advocate, we need to cut back on grains-all grains. We need to make sure the carbs we do eat are high in fiber. And we need to realize that there are actually healthy fats. Our brain craves such healthy fats.
A word of caution as you move away from gluten. Be sure to read the labels. Some of the non-gluten alternatives have added sugar to compensate for the removed gluten.
The evidence continues to mount that confirms what we probably already know. The rise in autoimmune diseases, in brain-related diseases and in illness related to gut microbes is in direct proportion to the manipulation of our food supply by corporate empires who place profits ahead of human health.