What is Gluten?
If you are new to gluten free living you might be wondering, what is gluten. Gluten is a protein which is found in wheat, barley, rye, and malt. It is also used as an additive for thickening, stabilizing and flavoring.
Some strict gluten free diets also exclude oats which are often exposed to cross contamination of gluten. Some of the most common gluten foods are pizza, crackers, pasta, cookies, bread, bagels and beer. This list includes some favorite foods for many. The good news is, there are gluten free versions of virtually every food you can think of.
Why wheat is bad for us – Wheat is such an accepted part of our diet that it is hard to believe it is the cause of so many of our health problems. But, when we look at the way our diet has changed even over the last hundred years and the effect it has had on obesity and diseases it is obvious that something is seriously wrong.
Where did we start going wrong? – The answer lies with the rise of the agricultural revolution which began 10,000 years ago and has been magnified in the last one hundred years with the virtual removal of fresh vegetables and fruits from many people’s diets.
The fact is, we are not designed to eat wheat. Man has been living on earth for over half a million year but, only eating wheat grains as a predominant part of his diet for an estimated 10,000. Evolution does not work this quickly and our bodies have not had time to adapt.
Malnutrition and Gluten – In order to understand the damage that gluten can do to your body you need to learn a little about the intestine. Your intestine is lined with hair like structures that are known as villi. The villi protrude from the lining of the small intestine so that their total surface area is increased. This maximizes the amount of nutrients they are able to absorb. When you are gluten intolerant, the body treats gluten as a toxin. In the process of trying to rid itself of this toxin it damages the villi essentially flattening them out. As a result, these flattened villi are unable to fully absorb nutrients and as we all know nutrients such as vitamins and minerals are vital for our health and the correct functioning of our body.
This damage need not be permanent. If you remove gluten from your diet then your villi will grow back and you will be able to absorb these vitamins and minerals again.
Identifying the Symptoms of Gluten Sensitivity – The first thing you need to know about the symptoms of gluten sensitivity and celiac disease is that they are multisystemic; they exhibit in multiple parts of the body. However, the damage is occurring in one place; the intestine. This can make it hard to identify the symptoms of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity since there are over 250 known symptoms.
Here is a few of the possible symptoms:
- Respiratory problems
- Joint pain
- Hair loss
- Low blood sugar
- Lactose intolerance
- Skin disorders
- Problems with menstrual cycles
- Inability to concentrate
- Canker sores
Like I mentioned above, the actual damage is in the intestine but, as you can see from the list above, this is not where most symptoms exhibit.
Having said that, there are some people with gluten intolerance and celiac disease who will exhibit gastrointestinal symptoms too.
- Weight loss
- Acid reflux
- Abdominal pain
Identifying celiac disease in children is slightly easier as they tend to exhibit common symptoms. These include abdominal pain, late onset of puberty, weak bones, nose bleeds, behavioral problems such as ADHD, irritability and difficulty concentrating.
Next: What is Celiac Disease?