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In last week’s post, I discussed the slightly popular topic of gluten and WHAT it is here. Today’s post is on the WHY of going gluten-free.

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Let’s be honest. Most of the world thinks this whole gluten-free thing is a fad.

I mean, how could our “daily bread” be such a devilish thing for health?

Even Time Magazine labeled the gluten-free movement #2 on the Top 10 list of food trends for 2012, and food companies are certainly taking advantage of the $2.5B industry!

But, with 6% or greater of the population having gluten sensitivity and at least 1% of the population with celiac disease, that’s well over 20 million people that are affected by this staple of the American diet.

Still, how can this Biblically referenced food be harmful to our health?

1. Today’s wheat is very different than it was hundreds of years ago.

As Dr. Mark Hyman explains in this article, the heirloom Biblical wheat made of ground, germinated seeds is completely different than our modern bread made of flour.

“Instead we eat dwarf wheat, the product of genetic manipulation and hybridization that created short, stubby, hardy, high yielding wheat plants with much higher amounts of starch and gluten and many more chromosomes coding for all sorts of new odd proteins.” (Hyman, 2012)

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What about organically grown wheat, you ask?

As Dr. Cate Shanahan states in Deep Nutrition: 

“Even when organically grown, manufacturers treat wheat flour like a construction material, extruding it into geometric shapes and puffing it into crunchy cereal cushions, rendering proteins allergenic.” (Shanhan & Shanahan, 2012).

And get this – our bodies may not even be adapted to digest and absorb wheat since it was cultivated 10,000 years ago.

A 2012 study in BMC Medicine concluded that a spectrum of gluten-related disorders exist because of a higher gluten content during the last 10,000 years and lack of gastrointestinal adaptation that created conditions for human disease related to gluten exposure.

(Is this blowing your mind yet!?)

2. It increases whole body inflammation.

Inflammation… what is it? It’s like a sprained ankle inside the body, and when there’s chronic low levels of irritation going on, it can bring on health problems and disease (bloating, allergies, etc.).

There are many different causes of inflammation, from toxins in the environment, to lack of sleep and stress, and in the case of bread, wheat germ agglutinin.

This latter compound is found in highest concentrations in whole wheat, and has been discovered to ignite an inflamed response (Saka, Chatterjee, Chatterjeee, Sudhakaran, 2007).

We can’t forget about pesticides, mold toxins, and allergenic proteins, too.

Combined with gluten, these foreign compounds can ultimately trigger  inflammation in the gut, compromising the mucosal barrier function (Sapone, et.al, 2011).

Translation? It can cause leaky cells (also known as “leaky gut”), where undigested food particles and toxins can slip through our intestinal barrier, causing a cascade of inflammation and related autoimmune responses (like allergies, weight gain, skin problems, etc).

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3.  It has anti-nutrients. 

Lectins – Common in eggs, tomatoes, potatoes, legumes (like soy), nuts and dairy, lectins are tough proteins that don’t break down well and stick to the lining of our gut wall, causing damage and digestion issues. Wheat germ agglutinin is especially concentrated in wheat products, and a common culprit for harming the gut mucosal lining (Freed, 1999).

Phytic acid – Also found in nuts, legumes and grains as well, phytic acid is another anti-nutrient that can block bioavailability of nutrients, also binding minerals in the body and making them unavailable. Proper soaking and cooking can decrease some the amount of phytic acid, but today’s bread does not include these preparations in the manufacturing process.

Acidic pH – Do you remember that whole pH scale in high school, ranging from 0 – 14? Our body likes to hang out at a 7.35, and has intricate systems in place to help ensure it doesn’t tip in either direction. The more acidic foods we eat, the harder our body has to work and dip into our mineral stores to buffer the acid. Eating too little plants and too many foods like sugar, dairy, processed foods and GRAINS stresses the body!

High in carbohydrates – Yes, carbs are a necessary part of health. However, our modern foods contain WAY too many carbs in the form of sugar, soda, bread, and other processed foods that ultimately are broken down into glucose, (a.k.a. sugar). This sends our pancreas into freak-out mode (see my post here for a Readers’ Digest version), and because our bodies do not have a lot of storage areas for glucose (in the form of glycogen), guess where it ends up? In our fat stores. CARBS (not these good fats) are the culprit in our country’s metabolic and obesity issues!

4) It affects the brain (especially in children!) more than we think.

Because the gut is connected to the brain and vice versa via the gut-brain axis (Chris Kresser, L. AC.,  writes about this frequently), wheat also affects our BRAIN. It also does so by turning on inflammatory chemicals, called cytokines, which are directly detrimental to brain function.

  • One study found that people with schizophrenia have higher than expected antibodies related to celiac disease and gluten sensitivity (Cascella, et. al, 2009).
  • Another study found a link between children with intestinal permeability and autism, and that they benefitted from a gluten-free diet (de Magistris, et. al., 2010).
  • About 70% of children with untreated celiac disease show exactly the same abnormal brain-wave patterns as those with Attention Deficit Disorder (A.D.D) (Braly and Hoggan, 2002).

If these kids were to cut out gluten, their brain and attentional issues will very much improve (Perlmutter, 2010). The crazy thing is, however, that most patients with neurological manifestation of gluten sensitivity have no gastrointestinal symptoms (Rothwell, 2010).

5) It really isn’t THAT nutritious. 

Simple question: What’s the main goal of eating? To nourish ourselves and gain the necessary nutrients we need to function at an optimum level, right?

If we’re just talking nutrient density, then, or the ratio of nutrient content compared to the total energy content, whole grains tie for second-to-last on this chart (Cordain & Friel, 2005)!

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So… it’s a REALLY hard concept to think about giving up your “daily bread,” isn’t it? Food is personal and true change can only come from your own intrinsic motivation.

You may not stop eating your precious bread right away.

But, think it over.

Is it REALLY giving you the nutrition that you need, or is it taking away and harming your right to live a vibrantly healthy life?

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Now, I want to know:  If you’ve gone gluten-free, what was the hardest part in the transition for you?

Next week, I’ll share steps to survive eating the gluten-free way!

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References

Braly, James and Ron Hoggan. Why Gluten Cereal Grains May Be Hazardous to Your Health. Penguin Putnam, Inc. New York, New York: 2002.

Cascella, et. al. Prevalence of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity in the United States clinical antipsychotic trials of intervention effectiveness study population. Schizophren Bull. 2011 Jan; 27(1) 94 – 100. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19494248?dopt=Abstract&holding=f1000,f1000m,isrctn

Cordain, Loren and Joe Friel. The Paleo Diet for Athletes. Rodale: 2005.

di Magistris, et. al. Alterations of the intestinal barrier in patients with autism spectrum disorders and in their first-degree relatives. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology Nutrition. 5 October 2010; 51 (4) 418-24. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20683204.

Freed, David. Do dietary lectins cause disease? BMJ. 17 April 1999; 318 (7190): 1023–1024.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1115436/.

Hyman, Mark. Three Hidden Ways Wheat Makes You Fat. Dr. Mark Hyman Blog. 13 February 2012. http://drhyman.com/blog/2012/02/13/three-hidden-ways-wheat-makes-you-fat/

Perlmutter, David. Gluten sensitivity and the impact on the brain. The Hufftington Post. 21 November 2010. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-david-perlmutter-md/gluten-impacts-the-brain_b_785901.html.

Rothwell, Peter M. Gluten sensitivity and the CNS: diagnosis and treatment. Lancet Neurol. 2010; 9: 318 – 30. http://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/laneur/PIIS1474442210701496.pdf.

Saja, K., Chatterjee, U., Chatterjee, B.P., Sudhakaran, P.R.Activation dependent expression of MMPs in peripheral blood mononuclear cells involves protein kinase A. Mol Cell Biochem. 2007 Feb; 296(1-2) 185-92.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17043752.

Sapone, et.al. Divergence of gut permeability and mucosal immune gene expression in two gluten-associated conditions: celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. BMC Medicine. 9 March 2011. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21392369.

Sapone, et. al. Spectrum of gluten-reltaed disorders: consensus on new nomenclature and classification. BMC Medicine. 9 October 2012. http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7015/10/13#B44

Shanahan, Cate and Luke Shanahan. Deep Nutrition. Big Box Books: Hawaii, 2009.

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