So you’ve heard that ‘going gluten free’ is good for you and like most people do, you feel great by keeping it off your plate. With all the controversy plastered across the media however, you’re not really sure why you’re following this health movement.
I can understand if you’re a bit confused right now. You’ve got the ‘4 star ratings’ on cereal packets grabbing your attention down the supermarket aisle and ads on the telly boasting why whole grains are the best choice. The media slams anyone who ‘goes paleo’ and many doctors still dismiss non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
With so much conflicting information out there, let’s ignore the marketing hype and dig a little deeper.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and will also contaminate oats during commercial processing. Any products made using these grains will contain gluten, including bread, pasta, cereal, biscuits, cakes as well as many processed foods such as sausages, sauces and spreads.
Gluten is a bakers dream as it is responsible for creating a dough consistency, but it unfortunately comes at a cost to your health.
“There is little doubt that one of the largest and most wide reaching events in the ultimate decline of brain health in modern society has been the introduction of wheat grain into the human diet. While it’s true that our Neolithic ancestors consumed miniscule amounts of this grain, what we now call wheat bears little resemblance to the wild eikorn varieties that are forebears consumed on rare occasions.” Dr David Pearlmutter states in his book ‘Grain Brain.’(1 Pg 10)
The Health Impacts Of Gluten
Let’s start with celiac disease, the much less prevalent but serious autoimmune condition where the body has an inflammatory immune response to gluten containing grains. This reaction causes damage to the gut lining structure and function, including inflammation and atrophy of your finger like projections in your small intestine, called villi. The villi are responsible for absorbing nutrients, therefore celiac disease can cause serious malabsorption problems if gone undiagnosed and not treated seriously with a strict gluten free diet.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
Even if celiac disease has been ruled out through a genetic test (HLADQ2 and DQ8), bloods for transglutaminase 2 autoantibody and a possible further small intestinal biopsy, gluten can still trigger unwanted symptoms and fuel long term chronic health conditions. This is referred to as non-celiac gluten sensitivity, where the removal of the gluten containing foods allows symptoms to resolve.
Gluten is an irritant on your gut lining and contributes to intolerance and inflammatory reactions throughout your body. It often fuels digestive disturbances such as bloating, reflux, constipation and/ or diarrhea, as well as fluid retention, sinus congestion, aches and pains throughout your body, mood swings, brain fog and general low energy. It is important to note that these symptoms may occur up to 4-8 days after consuming the gluten.
The gliadin component of the protein gluten specifically contributes to the condition of gastrointestinal permeability (leaky gut) (2). This is through the activation of a protein, called zonulin, which has the ability to open up the tight gap junctions of your vulnerable small intestinal lining.
If you link your hands tightly together with your fingers. This is what your gut lining should look like. Tiny holes present to allow nutrients to flow through into the bloodstream, but small enough to keep out undigested food, microbes and toxins. When you eat gluten, this releases zonulin and your fingers pull apart, signifying a ‘leaky gut.’
It’s not just the gluten which drives the condition of a leaky gut, but also glyphosate (Roundup) sprayed on conventionally farmed cereal crops. Unless certified organic, the glyphosate which is absorbed well into the plant, enters your gut on consumption of the food and plays a role in disrupting your gut microbiome and leading to the consequences of a leaky gut.
Having a leaky gut contributes to a steady leakage of bacteria, toxins and undigested foods into your bloodstream. This leakiness contributes to antibody production, infections and low grade chronic inflammation. Depending on where the inflammation occurs, conditions of varying degrees and locations in your body can develop. (3)
When you eat gluten containing foods your body can only break down the gluten into clumps, called peptides (alpha-gliadin is an example). When these poorly digested proteins make their way into the beginning of your small intestine, this activates antigen presenting cells and sends messages to switch on inflammatory cytokine production in your body. Sounds complicated, but in simple terms gluten triggers an increased production of inflammation, which is a known driver for chronic health conditions.
The damage doesn’t stop in the gut. The blood brain barrier (the very important filter for the brain) also opens from the release of zonulin. This process switches on the immune cells in the brain called glial cells, which are responsible for damaging inflammation production in the brain.
Gluten also has the dangerous ability to cross react with the brain, literally. This is through a process known as molecular mimicry. The antibodies produced against gluten, are very similar to areas of the brain, such as the cerebellum and synapses, in all neurons. When gluten is eaten and the body produces antibodies against the food protein, the body also treats these areas in the brain in the same way. When an antibody is bound to a tissue, the body reacts and destroys it. This will also cause long term inflammation and degeneration of the brain.
The Need For A Gluten Free Break
Your gut lining does repair itself every 3-7 days. To do this it requires adequate nutrition, including healthy levels of good fats, zinc and amino acids including glycine.
If you deliver a constant insult of gluten containing foods however, overtime you may be putting yourself at an increased risk of autoimmunity. The gut lining will tear and repair, days after weeks after years but eventually there will be a point where the body can no longer effectively heal your gut lining. At this point of tissue destruction and heightened inflammation, symptoms of autoimmune disease may appear as your body begins to attack itself by producing antibodies against your own body tissue. A common culprit is your thyroid gland, contributing to the autoimmune condition of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.
Additionally, when gluten containing grains which are sprayed with glyphosate (Roundup) are consumed, the dangerous glyphosate can both disrupt your glycine production pathways and can replace your natural glycine stores in the body, where it is used for gut healing, DNA synthesis, neurotransmitter function (brain health), detoxification and makes up your supply of connective tissue for healthy skin, muscle and joints.
But wait, there’s more!
New research (4) presented this year has linked inflammation in and beyond the gut to a different family of proteins in wheat, known as amylase-trypsin inhibitors (ATI’s). ATI’s are naturally present in cereals to help protect the plant against pests and parasites. As higher yielding, pest resistant cereal crops are developed, the ATI content of wheat and other grains has also increased.
When ATI’s are consumed, they fuel the production of inflammatory cytokines and can cause implications for both celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, irritable bowel syndrome and irritable bowel disease patients. Among this intestinal inflammation, ATI’s can contribute to inflammation in your lymph nodes, kidneys, spleen and brain, worsening the symptoms in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, asthma, lupus and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. (5, 6)
Grain products containing gluten are contaminated with ATI’s, which now begs the question… is the culprit gluten, ATI’s, or both? The discovery of the ATI’s inflammatory role particularly after wheat consumption has questioned the terminology of non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Should it now be referred to as non-celiac wheat sensitivity? To be sure you’re protecting your gut health and preventing unwanted inflammation in your body, my advice is to avoid both by embracing a grain free diet.
How To Avoid Gluten & ATI’s:
To ensure your diet is free from wheat derived ATI’s and gluten containing grains, it is always best to buy whole foods and cook from scratch.
For the times when you may buy canned, bottled or packaged food, ensure you check labels.
Gluten free products will often state ‘Gluten Free’ or ‘No detectable Gluten’ on the label, but it is best to double check for these gluten-containing ingredients:
Wheat, rye, barley, triticale, oats (if not specified uncontaminated/ gluten free) and their flours
Kamut, Spelt (Dinkel or German wheat), Bulgur (burghul), Durum, Couscous (other varieties of wheat)
Farina or thickeners
Wheat starch, starch or thickener (unspecified)
Cereal, bread, biscuit, batter, crumbs, corn flour (unspecified or wheat based)
Small traces of gluten may be found in these ingredients:
Modified starch or thickening agent
Additive numbers 1400-1450 (of wheat origin or unspecified)
Malt flavouring and malt extract
Maltodextrin (of wheat origin)
Hydrolysed protein (of wheat origin)
Additional food items which often contain gluten:
Beer, barley drinks, drinking chocolate
Commercial sauces and soups
Vegemite and Promite
Wheat germ oil
Ice cream, artificial cream, fruit flavoured yoghurts (the thickener)
Go Wheat & Gluten Free With Gratitude
The good news is that any inflammation and cell damage caused from gluten and ATI’s can be reversed by going wheat and gluten free! (7)
Keeping grains off the plate can be a big challenge for many. Instead of focusing on what you can’t have, be grateful for having this powerful knowledge and embrace the many nourishing and delish foods you can enjoy.
The best thing is you can have anything on the menu at Nutrition Republic and know you’ll be going wheat and gluten free to support your gut health (among much more).
What are your fav wheat and gluten free goodies?
Health & happiness,
Kasey Willson is an Adelaide based Nauropath, Nutritionist, Author & Speaker. Her latest book ‘Balanced, The Natural Way To Healthy Hormones’ was released in September 2016. You can download a free chapter at www.kaseywillsonnd.com/balanced-free and the full book, Kasey’s blog and clinic information is available at www.kaseywillsonnd.com.
See Kasey speak at her Balanced, The Natural Way To Healthy Hormones talk at Nutrition Republic in January! Click here to secure your spot!
Pearlmutter D. Grain Brain. USA: Hachette Book Group Inc; 2013
Lammers KM, Lu R, Brownley J, Lu B, Gliadin Induces an Increase in Intestinal Permeability and Zonulin Release by Binding to the Chemokine Receptor CXCR3, Gastroenterology. 2008 Jul; 135(1): 194–204.e3.
Brenchley J, Douek D. Microbial Translocation Across the GI Tract. Annu Rev Immunol. 2012; 30: 149–173.
Junker Y, Zeissig S, Kim S-J et al. Wheat amylase trypsin inhibitors drive intestinal inflammation via activation of toll-like receptor 4. J Exp Med 2012;209(13):2395-408.
Zevallos V, Weinmann-Menke J, Meineck M et al. Alpha-amylase/trypsin inhibitors (ATIs) accelerate murine systemic lupus erythematosus. Poster presentation at the 16th International Coeliac Disease Symposium, 21-24 June 2015, Prague, Czech Republic. Poster P168.
Zevallos V, Yogev N, Nikolaev A et al. Consumption of wheat alpha-amylase/trypsin inhibitors (ATIs) enhances experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis in mice. Oral presentation at the 16th International Coeliac Disease Symposium, 21-24 June 2015, Prague, Czech Republic.
Uhde M, Ajamian M, Caio G, D Giorgio R. Intestinal cell damage and systemic immune activation in individual reporting sensitivity to wheat in the absence of coeliac disease. Gut doi:10.1136/gutjnl-2016-311964