Is Gluten Sensitivity Real?
what the science says
Lately, it seems as though everyone is going gluten-free. Most people jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon don’t have true celiac disease, but rather believe they have a sensitivity to gluten. Eating gluten, these folks say, messes with their digestive system and/or negatively affects how they feel overall. But some detractors think going gluten-free is just a diet fad and that there’s no reason to go gluten-free unless you have celiac disease. So, let’s take a look at what the science says.
first, what is gluten?
- Gluten is a portion of the stalk of wheat or other grain made up of proteins. Gluten gives baked goods their texture.
- Gliadin is another protein on the stalk of wheat or other grain and is actually the most common protein in wheat.
When we talk about going “gluten-free” what we REALLY mean is we are avoiding foods that have both the gluten and gliadin proteins. They are found in wheat, rye, spelt and barley.
Approximately 1% of the population has celiac disease. Celiac disease occurs in people when those who have genetic predisposition (haplotypes HLA DQ2 or DQ8) ingest wheat or related grains. Gluten ingestion then triggers an immune response that produces antibodies to gliadin and the body’s own tissues in the small intestine. The small intestine villi, which are finger-like projections lining the small intestine and the site of nutrient absorption, consequently become damaged. This results in poor nutrient absorption that can contribute to serious health issues if left untreated. If you have family history of celiac disease, you may want to talk with your doc about testing for it.
non-celiac gluten sensitivity
Despite what some skeptics say, the science is clear that people can be sensitive to gluten for other reasons than having celiac disease. Let’s take a look at how gluten works in the body.
There are a couple of possible things that go wrong in the GI tract with gluten. The first is with zonulins, which are proteins that hold the cells in the GI tract together, preventing unwanted particles from entering the bloodstream and causing an immune system reaction. When gliadin is ingested, it can cause zonulin to loosen its hold, resulting in a GI tract that is permeable to the contents of the gut, called “leaky gut syndrome.” (LGS). Leaky gut syndrome allows food particles to enter the blood stream, where the immune system can find them and create antibodies, resulting in food sensitivities.
When the body launches an immune response to gluten, this creates inflammation. This inflammation can then impact neurotransmitter levels in the brain, leading to symptoms such as depression, anxiety, brain fog, loss of balance, hallucinations and headaches.
Secondly, some people lack the necessary enzymes to break down gluten into smaller proteins, to then be absorbed. When this happens in conjunction with leaky gut, these large particles, called gluteomorphins, can enter the bloodstream and cause distress.
Gluteomorphins also travel to the brain, where they can exert opioid-like effects. Know anyone who can’t live without their bread, pasta or cookies? This person could be experiencing a gluten-induced euphoria every time they eat wheat.
If you don’t have celiac disease, you may still suffer from non-celiac gluten sensitivity. That means you may be sensitive to gluten and going gluten-free would make you feel better. More women than men suffer from gluten sensitivity.
The most common symptoms reported in gluten-sensitive people include:
- Abdominal pain
- Lack of well-being
- Brain fog
- Joint/muscle pain
- weight loss
- mouth sores
is a gluten-free diet right for you?
At Healthy Nest Nutrition, we use state-of-the-art testing to determine if going gluten-free is right for your body. If so, our nutritionists will work one-on-one with you to get you on a healthy, nutrient-rich gluten-free diet. We coach you on how to choose THIS to eat instead of THAT. Or, to buy THIS instead of THAT. Once you build your new habits, it’s easy, and generally, you feel much better. Click here to schedule online for a free, 20-minute phone consultation with a Healthy Nest holistic nutritionist. We’ll discuss whether leading a gluten-free lifestyle would benefit you.
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Hi! I’m Robin, the founder of Healthy Nest Nutrition. I am a board-certified holistic nutritionist in Denver, Colorado. My passion is helping people find the right diet for their bodies and then showing them how to make healthy nutrition doable and delicious!