Is Gluten really bad for me?
Updated: Mar 15, 2018
“Gluten-Free” foods are everywhere at this point,
but even if you’re avoiding it, do you really know what it is? And did you know that there’s other stuff in wheat that’s also worth avoiding.
Here’s a look at why.
First of all, a refresher: wheat is a grain. The calories in wheat come mostly from carbohydrates, but wheat also contains a few problem proteins.
Wheat Germ Agglutinin
Amylase Trypsin Inhibitors
Problems caused by these proteins are not the same thing as blood sugar problems caused by the carbohydrates in wheat.
So what’s so bad about wheat?
1. Wheat Problems Aren’t Restricted to People with Celiac Disease
Plenty of people have documented sensitivities to gluten that aren’t actually celiac disease (as you’ll read below, there’s a different immune reaction involved). There’s also the overlapping problem of other proteins in wheat – wheat germ agglutinin and amylase trypsin inhibitors are not the same thing as gluten and you can be sensitive to them regardless of how your body handles gluten.
Wheat isn’t just a problem for people with celiac disease, and there’s more to wheat than gluten.
2. Gut Inflammation
Inflammation is your body's response by your immune system to injury. The proteins in wheat are gut irritants: they’re like a papercut or splinter digging into the lining of your gut, causing an inflammatory response.
The most famous case is the inflammation caused by gluten in people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. But inflammation from wheat is also a problem even for people who aren’t sensitive to gluten specifically. Amylase trypsin inhibitors (ATIs for short) that can provoke an inflammatory immune response in the GI tract by stimulating immune cells. This occurs in people regardless of whether they have celiac disease or not – it’s a completely different problem from gluten and it can cause trouble for you regardless of whether or not you’re sensitive to gluten in particular.
That inflammation is dangerous because…
3. Increased Intestinal Permeability
Inflammation in the gut contributes to a problem called intestinal permeability. The gut has a complex system of “border control” that lets digested food into your bloodstream (this is how you get nutrients from it) while keeping everything else out. Every day, you swallow millions of random viruses, bacteria, indigestible molecules like dust, and other stuff that needs to go out the other end, not into your blood.
Inflammation in the gut jacks up border control, loosening the junctions between cells in the gut wall so too much stuff can pass through. This is often described as making the gut “leaky” (“leaky gut”).
Intestinal permeability is a big problem – because it’s an essential factor in the development of autoimmune diseases.
4. Increased Vulnerability to non-Celiac Autoimmune Diseases
All kinds of stuff can get into the bloodstream even though it shouldn’t be there. Included in that stuff is…gluten! Specifically, gliadin, which is a component of gluten. Once it’s inside your bloodstream, gliadin runs into your immune system, and that’s where the problems really start, in the form of disguised invaders. Gliadin will disguise itself as very similar to your body's normal tissues.
Some foreign thing gets into the bloodstream. The immune system forms antibodies against it. So far, so good: that’s how the immune system is supposed to work. But if that foreign thing looks enough like your own body’s tissue, then the antibodies formed to fight it might start attacking your own body as well.
5. Damage to the Gut Biome
NOOOO! The gut biome, or the gut microbiome, or gut flora, is the collection of friendly bacteria that live in your gut. They help regulate your immune system, control intestinal permeability, digest your food, synthesize nutrients, send hunger/fullness signals to your brain, and do all kinds of other stuff.
But they really hate gluten, and gluten really doesn’t like them.
People with celiac disease usually have lots of issues with the gut flora, but those problems are significantly reduced when they eliminate gluten. BUT! again, it’s not limited to celiac disease: non-celiac gluten sensitivity also involves disturbances in the gut flora.
6. Gastrointestinal Symptoms (Even for People who Don’t have Celiac Disease)
In people with celiac disease, gluten causes immediate and severe symptoms (diarrhea and/or constipation, heartburn, pain, bloating, gas, stools that smell awful, sometimes vomiting…).
In people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity, symptoms are typically similar to celiac disease.
Even in people who aren’t sensitive to gluten specifically, the inflammatory reactions of other components of wheat contributes to chronic gut problems.
7. Brain Symptoms
Brain fog and fatigue are symptoms of both celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. On a serious note though, gut inflammation and microbiome disruptions involved in the immune-inflammatory response to gluten increase vulnerability to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Autoimmunity in general can involved in depression.
8. Skin Symptoms
Gluten sensitivity can show up as skin problems: “very itchy…similar to eczema, psoriasis, or dermatitis herpetiformis.” The itchy skin showed up most often on the arms and legs.
The conclusion is that wheat is bad news, even for people who don’t have celiac disease. The symptoms don’t necessarily show up as dramatic episodes of vomiting and diarrhea.
Why not try giving it up for a few weeks just to see how your body reacts – you might be surprised!
Thank you for reading along today!
Brianna, Holistic Healing Fit Club