What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat and barley. It contributes to the elasticity of dough. It is what makes bread chewy, and helps it rise and maintain its shape. Gluten is comprised of a combination of gliadin and glutenin. Glutenin makes up 47% of the total protein of wheat flour. The modern grains of today contain a higher concentration of gluten than ever due to selective breeding for higher crop yields, according to Alessio Fasano, M.D., Medical Director of the Center for Celiac Research at Mass General Hospital for Children, in Boston. The gluten we consume today is not the same gluten our grandparents consumed and this may be contributing to why so many of us are suffering from negative health effects related to gluten.
What is Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity?
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) has been defined by a panel of international experts as “a non-allergic and non-autoimmune condition in which the consumption of gluten can lead to symptoms similar to those seen in celiac disease.” Symptoms of NCGS include behavioral changes, bone or joint pain, leg numbness, muscle cramps, chronic fatigue and weight loss. Nearly 18 million Americans are suspected the have gluten sensitivity. For those with celiac disease, avoiding gluten is imperative, as gluten attacks the absorbent surface of the small intestine and may lead to malnutrition. However, even those without celiac disease report experiencing a variety of symptoms that have lessened or gone away entirely when gluten was eliminated from their diet. This has led to the diagnosis and treatment of NCGS.
People suffering from common digestive issues such as gas, diarrhea or constipation, abdominal bloating, upset stomach, abdominal cramping may have a gluten sensitivity or may have undiagnosed celiac disease. These same symptoms are often linked to or misdiagnosed as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). It is important to consult a physician when experiencing these symptoms, but in the absence of a firm diagnosis and effective treatment plan, eliminating gluten from your diet may result in a lessening of symptoms in cases where those symptoms are as a result of gluten sensitivity or celiac disease.
Those suffering from gluten sensitivity may not be properly absorbing nutrition the way their body should, which can leave one with little energy and a pervasive tiredness. Also, gluten sensitivity can result in a malabsorption of iron, leading to anemia which further increases feelings of tiredness. Eliminating gluten from your diet may increase your energy levels and increase your body’s absorption of vital nutrients.
Joint Pain, Rashes, and Inflammation
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have indicated sensitivity to gluten may lead to joint pain, cramping, and numbness in the legs. Skin tissues may also become inflamed, leading to rashes, eczema, and itchiness. Eliminating gluten has been shown to result in a lessening of these symptoms in gluten sensitive individuals.
Depression, Confusion and ADHD
The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness reports that people sensitive to gluten reported experiencing headaches, confusion, ADHD-like symptoms and depression. These symptoms were attributed to the presence of an inflammatory molecule known as cytokines which are released in the brain when a person with a gluten sensitivity consumes gluten. High levels of cytokines are linked to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and autism.
Gluten-free alternatives to wheat and barley include rice, millet and quinoa and have proven to be popular substitutes. These products can be used to make breads, muffins, pastas, tortillas, cereals and vegan meats. Gluten-free foods often taste just as great as their gluten packed counterparts but offer the added benefit of helping people with gluten sensitivity to experience better health, more energy, and an improved mental state. The choices of available options are greater than ever, with many Gluten-free prepared foods available at the supermarket and online.
Benefits to Eating Gluten-Free
As the awareness of the dangers of gluten increase, more and more people are turning to Gluten-free alternatives and reporting they’ve never felt better. A Gluten-free diet provides a number of benefits. For example, when gluten is eliminated from the diet, diets normally increase in the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables which in turn increases the amount of vitamins and antioxidants consumed. Eliminating gluten often leads to a reduction in the use of processed foods which has been shown to increase weight loss. Those with digestive issues often see significant improvement or elimination of symptoms such as gas, bloating, and upset stomach. With so many healthy options available today, eliminating gluten is a no-brainer for many who have found they are experiencing a greater quality of health, renewed energy, and peace of mind with a Gluten-free lifestyle.