Gluten – the Quiet Flame?
Maybe you’ve noticed just as I have the surge of reports and articles online and in magazines about gluten. I’ve also been aware of the increased number of gluten-free images I see on packaging at the grocery store – everything from food, drinks and supplements to personal care products. So what’s it all about and why should we be rethinking the amount of gluten we consume? My objective with this blog is to explain as simply as possible the connection between gluten and inflammation in the human body. At the heart 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 an assortment of health challenges, from chronic daily headaches and brain fog to serious conditions such as depression and Alzheimer’s. Unchecked, inflammation could present in one person as cancer or an autoimmune disorder, whereas the same inflammatory condition in another, could result in obesity or heart disease.
Gluten – which is Latin for “glue” – is made up of two groups of proteins that act as an adhesive material that holds flour together to make bread products, crackers, baked goods and pizza dough. Most of us consume gluten through wheat, but it’s also found in any products made with rye, barley, spelt and kamut.
Have you ever felt that satisfying and almost euphoric feeling following the consumption of a bagel, a scone, a croissant or a piece of “oh so yummy” warm crusty French bread? You’re not imagining it and you’re not alone. We’ve known since the late 1970’s that gluten breaks down in the stomach to become a mix of polypeptides known as exorphins that can cross the blood-brain barrier. Once they cross, wheat derived exorphins can bind to opiate receptors in the brain to produce a sensorial high. What’s even more interesting is that these exorphins cause addictive behavior and appetite stimulation and when removed from one’s diet, the result for some people can be an unpleasant opiate-like withdrawal process.
Food sensitivities in general are usually a response from the immune system. They can also occur if the body lacks the right enzymes to digest the ingredients in foods. In the case of gluten, its “sticky” quality interferes with the breakdown and absorption of nutrients. Poorly digested food leads to a residue in your gut that alerts the immune system to leap into action. Some people don’t demonstrate obvious signs of gastrointestinal trouble, but they could be experiencing a silent attack elsewhere in their body and not even know it. And should they recognize a problem, they might not make the connection to gluten. When our body negatively reacts to food, it attempts to control the damage by sending out inflammatory messenger molecules to label food particles as enemies. This leads the immune system to keep sending out inflammatory chemicals, killer cells among them, to wipe out the enemy. This process can also compromise the walls of our intestine, and lead to a condition known as “leaky gut.”
At this point you might be wondering – if gluten is so bad, how is it that we’ve managed to survive for so long? The simple answer is that the grains we eat today bear little resemblance to the grains that entered our diet thousands of years ago. In the last fifty years our food chain has had a rapid makeover with the discovery of hybridization techniques and bio-engineering. We now have structurally-modified grains that contain gluten our body tolerates far less than the gluten found in the grains of yesteryear.
Gluten sensitivity is far more prevalent than we realize and we could be doing ourselves harm without even knowing it. Gluten hides where you least suspect it. It is in packaged seasonings, condiments, soups, sweeteners, soy products, ice cream, cosmetics and hand creams just to name a few. I’ve listed below some of its disguised names in food products.
Hydrolyzed plant protein/HPP Hydrolyzed vegetable protein/HVP Modified starch/modified food starch (can come from several sources, including wheat) Natural flavor/natural flavoring (can come from barley) Artificial flavor/artificial flavoring (can come from barley) Caramel color (can come from barley) Malt/malt vinegar Dextrin and Maltodextrin (both sometimes made from wheat) Brown Rice Syrup (often made from barley)
Additionally, watch out for “Gluten-Free Foods.” Many commercially prepared gluten-free foods are no better than their “super gluten” counterparts. Most of these foods are highly processed and are made from other high-glycemic grains such as rice, corn, potato and tapioca flours. And if you’re striving to achieve a healthy diet, high glycemic foods should be limited.
My intent with this article is not to scare you away entirely from grains containing gluten, but rather to provide you with a bit of information that could activate questions about your own experience with gluten and possibly inspire you to experiment with either significantly reducing its use or eliminating it entirely in order to see if you feel a difference. I’m willing to bet that you will! Give it at least 3-4 weeks. As someone who is walking the cancer journey, my level of hope is raised that I’m lessening my risk for recurrence when I implement strategies that I know help reduce inflammation in my inner terrain. My wish for you is the same!
Come join us at our next Foods to Nourish class on June 28th. We’ll be diving deeper into the topic of Inflammation as it relates to Cancer.
Commit to being your body’s nurturing disciple! Diane
Resources: Grain Brain – David Perlmutter, MD Wheat Belly – William Davis, MD