There is a lot of buzz around celiac disease and gluten intolerance these days, enough to spawn a whole industry within the food industry. There is also quite a bit of confusion as to the nature of these syndromes and what exactly to do about them. Many people are coming to the realization that grains are not always good for them, and may even make them feel unwell.
Wheat is a whole grain; a whole grain contains cereal germ, endosperm, and bran. The bran is the tough outside layer of the grain and is comprised of proteins, vitamins, and minerals. The endosperm, or kernel of the grain, is the portion that contains most of the complex carbohydrates. This is where flour comes from. A kernel of rice is another example of the endosperm. The germ is the embryo of the plant. It contains fatty acids and is the portion of the plant from which we derive vegetable oils.
Gluten, a word which literally means “glue” in latin, is a protein found in wheat and related species of grain such as barley, spelt, faro, kamut, and rye. There are two main classes of gluten; prolamines and glutelins. The prolamine, gliadin, is responsible for causing the inflammation that is experienced in ‘gluten intolerance’. This inflammatory response has deleterious effects on the gut lining, particularly the microvilli—small hairs that are a key player in nutrient absorption. Gluten intolerance is really the inability to digest gliadin.
The difference between gluten intolerance and celiac disease is that celiac disease is an autoimmune process that occurs in the gut. It is an immune response to gluten.
Symptoms of celiac disease tend to be centered in the gut; bloating, occasional diarrhea and stomach aches can all be signs pointing towards the diagnosis. Untreated celiac disease significantly increases the risk for certain cancers, osteoporosis, neurological conditions such as depression, and, interestingly, lactose intolerance. Gluten intolerance also may lead to symptoms such as joint pains or autoimmune processes.
Ten years ago, the incidence of celiac disease was estimated to be 1 in 2,500 people. Today it is thought to be 1 in 133. Why such a large increase? Better diagnostic testing and increased awareness can explain some of the change, but a bigger factor is probably the significant increase in the amount of gluten in today’s hybrid grains. According to the Weston Price Foundation, the gluten content of the two predominant stains of genetically modified wheat is five times the gluten content of their non-hybridized ancestors.
The best way to determine if gluten is a problem for you is to try an elimination diet. This involves stopping all gluten for a 3-week period, then re-introducing it, quite heavily, for a three day period. This is not as simple as it sounds; beer has gluten, things that are thickened—sauces, salad dressings and ketchup—contain gluten, plus the aforementioned grains. There are lots of resources on-line which can help you determine where you might encounter gluten. People to whom I recommend giving the diet a try are people with IBS or any gastrointestinal complaints, consistent joint pain that is not alleviated with any type of body work, and some of the autoimmune diseases, particularly rheumatoid arthritis. If gluten intolerance or celiac is a problem for you, it is likely that you will notice a symptom improvement during the period of elimination, and a symptom exacerbation when gluten is re-introduced.
Chris Hastings is a Chiropractic Physician at Sojourns Community Health Clinic. For more information please contact Sojourns Community Health Clinic at (802)722-4023, 4923 US Route 5, Westminster, VT, www.sojourns.org. Find us on Facebook.