Gluten is the devil! "I call gluten a "silent germ" because it can inflict lasting damage without you knowing it" [Brain Maker, David Permimutter]. Gluten is everywhere today, despite the gluten-free movement taking place even among food manufacturers, gluten lurks in everything from wheat products to ice cream to hand cream. It’s even used as an additive in seemingly “healthy,” wheat-free products. Common foods that contain gluten are pasta, noodles, bread and pastries, crackers, baked goods, cereals and granola, sauces and gravies (many use flour as a thickener), beer and malt beverages, and brewers yeast.

Modern wheat is a far cry from the wheat that our parents ate. In order to create a bug-resistant, drought-resistant, and faster-growing wheat, we've hybridised our "modern grain." It's estimated that 5% of the proteins found in hybridised wheat are new proteins that were not found in either of the original wheat plants [Wheat Belly, William Davis]. These proteins are part of the problem, which has lead to the increased inflammation and intolerance of gluten. 

Gluten-containing proteins are present in wheat, rye, barley and oats (spelt and Kamut are old grains of the wheat family but with much less gluten).  Gluten is made up of two main groups of proteins, the glutenins and the gliadins. We can be sensitive to either of these proteins or to one of the twelve different smaller units that make up gliadin. A reaction to any of these could lead to inflammation and serious health implication.

We can’t even begin to list the number of studies that have confirmed the irrefutable connection between gluten sensitivity and neurological dysfunction (ADHS, depression, memory problems, MS, ALS, autism, just to name a few). Even people who are not clinically sensitive to gluten (they test negative and don’t appear to have issues digesting the protein) can suffer problems.  New research continues to be published about the damaging effects of gluten on the microbiome and the gut.  It is possible that the many chronic diseases start with the cascading effects that take place when the gut is damaged by substances like gluten.

While a small percentage of the population is highly sensitive to gluten and suffers from celiac disease, it’s possible for virtually everyone to have a negative, albeit undetected, reaction. Gluten’s “sticky” attribute interferes with the breakdown and absorption of nutrients (a nutrient blocker that stops us for absorbing the vital nutrients from the other foods that we eat), which leads to poorly digested food that can then sound the alarm in the immune system, eventually resulting in an assault on the lining of the small intestine. This can manifest itself in digestive symptoms, including bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, weight loss, fat malabsorption, and malnutrition like iron deficiency or anaemia, low vitamin-D, low B12, or even osteoporosis. This blunting of the microvilli is the hallmark of celiac disease, which is an autoimmune disease.

The effects of gluten might start off with unexpected headaches, low on energy, and possibly be feeling anxious, they can worsen to levels of depression.  Other symptoms may include abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhoea, constipation, and intestinal distress. Many people won't experience any noticeable symptoms, but there is a silent attack going on elsewhere in the body, like their nervous system.  Gluten is an anti-nutrient which can interfere with the absorption of nutrients, which leads to poor digestion. 

Once the alarm is activated, gluten has entered the building, the immune system sends out inflammatory chemicals to neutralise the effects of gluten. The consumption of gliadin stimulates the secretion of zonulin (we talked about this in The First Step in a Healthy Nutrition Plan) by the intestinal mucosa. This human protein discovered by Alessio Fasano in 2000 is responsible for the opening of the tight junctions between the enterocytes leading to a "leaky gut" or "intestinal permeability” (We talked about this in Fat Gut, Thin Gut and Leaky Gut”).  

Any intestinal permeability increases the passage of non-digested macromolecules (‘invaders’) which are at the origin of a trigger of the immune system. In predisposed individuals, this can lead to auto-immunity or atopy (allergic respiratory or cutaneous allergies towards usually well-tolerated allergens like pollen, animal hair or mites). 

The other form of intolerance to gluten comes from a small protein with deleterious effects. Wheat Germ Agglutinin (WGA) polypeptide, the inflammatory activity of which is responsible for many unpleasant symptoms after ingestion of gluten, including abdominal bloating.  If you eat gluten on a regular basis you may not notice this, removing gluten from the diet for 30-days and then reintroducing it can make the effects far more noticeable. To use an analogy from Chris Kresser, imagine a dirty windscreen on your car if another few specks of dirt are added you may not notice.  If you clean the windscreen (the 30days of not eating gluten), then it is far more noticeable when a few specks of dirt start to appear. 

Gluten sensitivity, with or without the presence of celiac, increases the production of inflammatory cytokines, which are pivotal players in neurodegenerative conditions. The brain is among the most susceptible organs to the deleterious effects of inflammation.  Those who experience symptoms of gluten sensitivity complain of abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhoea, constipation, and intestinal distress. Many people, however, don’t experience these blatant signs of gastrointestinal trouble, yet they could be experiencing a silent attack elsewhere in their body, such as in their nervous system.  

Only the strict and complete avoidance of gluten can help us to avoid the associated health risks, which include: multiple nutrient deficiencies, osteoporosis, anaemia, auto-immune pathologies, and digestive lymphomas, to name only several of the most common risks. Ultimately, we should not be surprised by the elevated percentage of people who claim to have better digestion or simply feel better, by removing gluten from their diets.

To add salt to the wound:

Glyphosate (the main ingredient in Roundup) has come under increased scrutiny by the World Health Organization's cancer group, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, classified it as a probable carcinogen.   A growing body of research is documenting health concerns of glyphosate as an endocrine disruptor and that it kills beneficial gut bacteria, damages the DNA in human embryonic, placental and umbilical cord cells and is linked to birth defects and reproductive problems in laboratory animals.  

What is not so well known is that farmers also use glyphosate on crops such as wheat, oats, edible beans like soybeans and other crops right before harvest. A recently published paper describes the escalating use of glyphosate: 18.9 billion pounds have been used globally since its introduction in 1974, making it the most widely and heavily applied weed-killer in the history of chemical agriculture. Significantly, 74% of all glyphosate sprayed on crops since the mid-1970s was applied in just the last 10 years, as the cultivation of GMO corn and soybeans expanded in the U.S. and globally.

Next week we talk about the industrial revolution and some of the impacts it has had on our nutrition and our health.