Modern Gluten and Poor Health: How Changes to Wheat Have Created a Health Threat

A few decades ago, no one aside from chefs, doctors and nutrition experts knew what the sticky, stretchy protein found within certain grains was called. Now, the gluten free diet has become common, with people all over the world shunning gluten in favor of a better life.

To put it simply, gluten is a protein. It’s composed of gliadin and glutenin molecules, which become stretchy and elastic when exposed to moisture. This makes for excellent pizza crusts and spongy bread, but gluten has a frightening downside. For some people, it can even be life threatening.

Another unfortunate fact about gluten is that it’s hidden in a lot of foods. Many processed foods contain small or trace amounts of gluten due to cross contamination, fillers or flavoring. For those with gluten intolerance, this can be a nightmare. Ingredients that can signal possible hidden gluten include malts, starches and natural flavoring. Certain vegetarian items, such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein and textured vegetable protein, are also gluten.

For reasons we still don’t fully understand, some people are far more sensitive to gluten than others. Celiac disease is a common condition that causes a complete intolerance to gluten. Celiac patients must remain gluten free for life, otherwise they could suffer from an array of horrifying symptoms, from psychological problems to cancer. According to a 2009 study in the Gastroenterology journal, undiagnosed celiac disease can make a person four times as likely to experience premature death. That’s some seriously scary stuff.

The Grain That Causes Pain: Why Gluten Makes Us Sick

Even if you’re sure you don’t have celiac disease or any other health problems, you should know that gluten isn’t easy for anyone to digest. Its name is based on the Latin word for “glue”, and its behavior in your gut isn’t that dissimilar from its namesake. While whole wheat contains insoluble fiber and other important nutrients, the gluten part of the bread can be difficult to break down and even impede the absorption of nutrients in some cases.

When undigested gluten remains, the body begins to attack it as a foreign invader, which leads to damage to the lining of your intestines. Over time, this damage can cause severe inflammation, diarrhea, constipation, stomach aches, or worse, leaky gut.

According to research from Dr. Alessio Fasano, director of the Center for Celiac Research in Massachusetts, gluten stimulates a gut molecule called zonulin, which stretches the openings of the junctures between cells in the gut lining. These stretched openings allow food particles to “leak” into your bloodstream, where they are attacked by your immune system, causing inflammation and autoimmune issues. Leaky gut can affect anyone, including those without a celiac diagnosis.

Signs of leaky gut include:

• Chronic digestive issues.

• Weak immunity.

• Headaches, poor memory or difficulty thinking clearly.

• Nutritional deficiencies.

• Unexplained fatigue or exhaustion.

• Strong sugar cravings.

• Skin problems like acne, rashes or psoriasis.

• Arthritis or aching joints.

• Depression or other issues with mental health.

Even those who don’t have celiac disease often notice a sudden increase in energy, elevated moods, weight loss, better skin and overall improved health from going off gluten, suggesting that there might be varying levels of sensitivity. There’s some disagreement about this in medical circles, but according to Dr. Mercola, non-celiac gluten sensitivity most certainly exists.  More can be read in his article How Gluten and Modern Food Processing Contribute to Poor Health, in addition to numerous publications, including the book The No-Grain Diet. Dr. Mercola recommends the removal of gluten from the diet as a first step for patients suffering from any sort of unexplained ailment or difficulty.

The Wheat We Shouldn’t Eat: How This Common Grain Changed

You might be thinking about the fact that humans have farmed, harvested and dined on wheat-based foods for centuries. If it was as toxic as everyone says, how would humanity have survived that?

What many people don’t realize is how wheat has changed over time. The wheat in today’s supermarkets is different than what our ancestors once ate on the farm.

Three notable changes to the wheat include:

• Refinement.

• The use of glyphosate herbicide.

• Milling and panification techniques.

Generations ago, pure wheat products were rare. Instead, people ate flours made from a mix of ingredients, including other grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. In the past 200 years, we began refining wheat into the white flour we know today. Then, in the 1960s, plant breeders began working on hybridized varieties of wheat that would be resistant to diseases and offer greater yields.

However, accomplishing this also resulted in increasing the amount of gluten found in wheat by large amounts. Some experts believe this is the reason we are seeing such a rise in gluten sensitivity, celiac disease and other autoimmune issues.

The use of glyphosate herbicides is another matter. Most commonly found in Roundup, a common herbicide, glyphosate has been shown to damage flora in your gut, which is not only crucial for proper digestion, but also for mental health. This isn’t surprising when you consider glyphosate was first patented as an antibiotic.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) called glyphosate a “probable carcinogen” based on evidence it causes lung cancer and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in human studies. Considerable evidence of it causing cancer in animals was also found. On top of that, glyphosate blocks a digestive process that normally helps your body break down the gluten proteins.

Another factor to consider are modern milling techniques, which lead to a highly refined, high-gluten product, and the panification practices, which involve using chemicals to speed up the process in which the dough rises.

Giving Up the Grain: A Gluten-free Approach for the Masses

The quest for a healthy diet and lifestyle is becoming a more common undertaking. Over 3.1 million Americans are currently following a gluten free diet for health, weight-loss or other purposes, and more people are becoming interested all the time, especially after witnessing the positive effects it can have. That said, do you really need to eliminate it if you don’t have a gluten intolerance?

Gluten isn’t great for anyone, nor is it necessary for taste or the enjoyment of a meal. Most people don’t need to be entirely gluten free to have a decent life, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t amazing benefits to giving it up. The only way to know is to try.

If you don’t feel ready to go gluten free overnight, you can begin by making small changes to your diet. One of the first things you should do is check out the wide selection of gluten-free pastas, pizzas, breads and other foods that are available today. Try starting out with one gluten-free day each week and slowly work up to more.

For more information on gluten or to find out if you have a gluten sensitivity, please contact us today for a consultation.