What the heck is gluten?!?
Gluten has been in the news lately as reports of it’s inflammatory properties are being implicated in many adverse conditions including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Celiac’s disease, Crohn’s disease, heart disease, high blood pressure (HBP) and even early onset neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s and dementia. This type of hype has certainly caught our attention although many of us are still left asking the question “What is Gluten and why is it bad for me?”.
Let’s lay the groundwork first and explain what gluten is and what it isn’t. Gluten is an active protein contained within of a protective sheath called the endosperm in many grain-like plants such as wheat, rye, and barley. The gluten serves as a means of energy during germination so the plant can grow from a seedling. You are probably thinking “Thanks for the snooze, why should I care?” You should care because gluten can be potentially destructive to not only your gastrointestinal system but to your immune and neurological health! Now that I have your attention…
Those with gluten sensitivities can present with a plethora of health complaints however the most common are gastrointestinal(GI) distress, bloating, inflammation of joints as well as other more serious conditions like Rheumatoid Arthritis, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Multiple Sclerosis and so on. What actually happens? The lining in your colon becomes “unselectively permeable” meaning that your stomach can no longer decide what particles stay inside and what leaks into the blood stream unchecked. For the same reason we hold our children’s hands when we cross the street, the GI tract needs to accompany certain foods safely down the path to ensure they don’t go where they are not supposed to be. When we have particulate in the bloodstream, the body is forced to account for it although it is not equipped for such an undertaking. The immune system has the option to store it in the joints for now (arthritis) or attack it as foreign invader (auto-immune response). Neither of these solve the problem long term but it is the best the body can do when presented with a constant stream of toxins. All of this is of course a simplified version of the literal processes that take place but for our purposes, the analogies will work just fine right? Right.
So why are we just hearing about this now and why is everyone seemingly allergic to gluten all of a sudden? The answer is multi-factorial and not yet fully understood. Estimates vary wildly as to how many people have an intolerance to gluten however most authorities point to the number of Americans suffering with Celiac’s disease ( a subset of gluten intolerance) at about 3.5 million or 1% of the population of the United States with white people of European descent being affected in the highest percentages. The truth is that while 1 in 133 people are living with Celiac’s disease, many more are living with less dramatic side effects and thus will go undiagnosed for years. The combination of new research, better recognition of the signs and symptoms and better training from health care professionals has most certainly led to a “sudden” increase in public knowledge of the disorder.
“But Dr. Zach, I saw a sketch on Jimmy Kimmel where people claimed to be gluten free and didn’t even know what it was”! I saw the same segment and I thought it was hilarious! Does that mean that the public has been duped into believing gluten is bad for you? I believe that line of thinking would be doing a disservice to those who have suffered for years without answers. Anecdotally I know several close friends whose lives have been dramatically improved by simply cutting gluten out of their diets. More significantly, 3.5 Million people living with Celiac’s disease maintain that a gluten free diet is the only known cure for their disorders. I think we all want the American public to be better educated when it comes to our nutrition however a well-informed, health conscious citizen typically doesn’t make for good television.
“Oh boy, I think I’m gluten insensitive”.
Pump the brakes for a minute while we determine if you do in fact fall into that category. At Foundation Chiropractic, your complete health is of the utmost importance to us. That is why we have created our Preferred Health Partners program in order to serve you better. The program allows us to refer to only the most trusted experts in their respective fields so that we know our patients are receiving sound advice and council that is congruent with our office’s policy of putting the patient first. If you would like more information about who we trust to handle our nutritional testing and counseling, please use the contact information located on website to schedule your free consultation with the doctor.
All the best health from the Foundation Chiropractic team!
Dr Zach Simkins