The Truth About Gluten

  • By Dr. Anand Thakkar
  • 16 Mar, 2016
What is Gluten?

Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. It is not found in oats. Bakers like gluten because it helps bread rise. As kids, we love it because gluten gives bread that wonderful elasticity and that feeling of chewiness that you get in baked breads.

  Why is it so hard to say “NO” to Gluten?

Grains have an addictive lure. The components stimulate the narcotic centers of the human brain. It’s no wonder food manufacturers put wheat everywhere. The offending element is the protein gluten, a primary ingredient in wheat flours. Gluten can hide in licorice candy, imitation bacon, processed luncheon meats, soy sauce, over-the-counter medications - even when you take communion – yes, they can be hiding in those tiny little wafers.

  Why should I care about Gluten?

Research has shown that as many as 40% of Americans may have the gene for gluten sensitivity. That means as many as 1 in 4 Americans may have some delayed allergic reaction to gluten.

People are becoming increasingly sensitive to gluten. Eating it can trigger a host of undesirable symptoms such as irritability, headache, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and increased appetite. It may even produce difficulty with balance, called “gluten ataxia” and even the effects resembling of multiple sclerosis.

Even more concerning, gluten sensitivity in children can be hard to identify at first because the issue may simply appear to be only a vague collage of unrelated symptoms: attention deficit disorder, chronic earaches, stomach cramps, alternating diarrhea and constipation, bloated abdomen, joint pain, fatigue or just being small for their age.

All grains can cause nutritional deficiencies, since they are all incomplete proteins. As we eat more and more grain products we tend to eliminate other nutritional meats, fruits, and vegetables. Think how kids, if given the chance at the dinner table, will fill up on bread, French fries, chips. This emphasis leads to inadequate growth because of a reduction of protein and amino acids.

When gluten sensitivity goes untreated, malnutrition develops, and the chronic inflammation may lead eventually to various autoimmune and neurological disorders.

Gluten can trigger an increasingly common autoimmune disorder called Celiac Disease in which the villi (tiny surface folds) of the small intestine become inflamed, thickened, and finally flattened to the point they can no longer absorb nutrients. This disease is characterized by the presence of serum antibodies to various proteins including endomysium, reticulin, gliadin, and tissue transglutaminase.Antibodies to neuronal tissue have been identified in patients with gluten sensitivity. Celiac disease prevents the body from absorbing nutrients properly. There are no longer as many functioning “holes in the sieve” for nutrients to get through to the blood stream. Even after the villi in the small intestine are described as being “back to normal,” there remains the potential of some nutrients being absorbed at lower levels.

Why should I choose a Gluten-Free (GF) Diet?

The good news is that following a gluten-free diet can usually reverse much of the damage to the gut surface. The other good news, for breakfast lovers, is that oats do not contain gluten, as long as they are processed in a plant that does not also process wheat.

A GF diet is considered medically imperative for people with Celiac Disease or dermatitis herpetiformis, a gluten induced skin sensitivity rash. Some people choose to go GF because they find it helps with Autism or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD or ADHD). There is also considerable evidence that gluten is associated with illnesses as diverse as rheumatoid arthritis, epilepsy, odd neurologic symptoms, autoimmune diseases including diabetes, systemic lupus erythematosus, migraine headaches and white matter abnormalities of the brain, thyroiditis.

Children with autism often need the “casein-free, gluten-free” diet, which involves elimination of gluten and all foods containing the protein casein in pasteurized milk. The Autism Network for Dietary Intervention (ANDI) provides information and support to families who wish to follow this diet.

How do I get started on going Gluten-Free?

We explain and recommend this diet to adults and children in our clinic, and help negotiate the obstacles of shopping, reading labels, etc. to make your choice and transition easy and seamless.

Where can I find Gluten-Free products?

Your favorite foods can be prepared without gluten. Bakeries are popping up that specialize in GF lasagna, cookies, muffins, and more. You can even find GF soaps and personal cosmetics. If a GF diet right for you and/or your family, take comfort in the fact the GF food makers have come a long way and these products are more readily available than ever before.
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