When I was first advised to eliminate gluten from my diet, I was taken aback. Up to that point, I associated gluten primarily with Celiac disease and had never considered it as something I should avoid. However, I had recently been diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, and while the prescribed medications were helping with RA, they were making me feel miserable. At that point, I was willing to try anything, so I eliminated obvious sources of gluten. It wasn’t easy, especially given it was during the Christmas season – it was shocking to me just how many typical holiday foods contained gluten! But the most astonishing part was how quickly I started feeling better.
So, What is Gluten?
As I went through my holistic nutrition studies, I discovered why removing gluten had made me feel better. Gluten is a protein composite found in wheat, barley, rye, and their various derivatives. It is composed of two main proteins: glutenin and gliadin. Gluten gives dough its elasticity and helps it rise and maintain its shape and structure during baking.
How Can Gluten be Harmful?
While gluten does wonders for baked goods, it’s a different story for the digestive system. Gluten is closely linked to a protein called zonulin, which regulates permeability of the the gut lining. Zonulin determines what enters the bloodstream and what stays in the intestinal tract. Exposure to gluten triggers the release of zonulin, so why then had so many of us never heard of this before? Why does gluten suddenly seem like this potential health villain?
The answer lies largely with wheat. Wheat is the primary source of gluten and it’s been incorporated into many processed foods. How wheat is grown has changed significantly over the years. Hybridization and genetic modification have altered wheat’s composition and its impact on the body.
Gluten Bombardment: It’s Everywhere!
Wheat is now a common ingredient in many processed foods. As we consume more processed foods, our gluten exposure has naturally increased. This heightened exposure to gluten can result in continuous zonulin release, which means that the gut’s tight junctions that regulate what enters and leaves the digestive system are often open. When these tight junctions are open, there’s a higher chance of substances leaking into the bloodstream, triggering an immune response.
Formation of Antibodies
Another negative impact gluten can have on our health is through the formation of antibodies. Gluten plays a role in triggering the production of antibodies. This, in turn, can induce the release of inflammatory substances, ultimately resulting in tissue damage. Also, these antibodies can mistakenly target and attack the body’s own tissues, through a mechanism known as molecular mimicry. This can potentially lead to autoimmune diseases. Unfortunately, lab tests that assess these antibodies are often not linked to gluten because many aren’t aware of this connection.
More Immune Responses = More Inflammation
An active immune system protects us from foreign invaders. When foreign substances enter the bloodstream, the immune system initiates an inflammatory response. With perpetually open tight junctions, the immune system is triggered more often, leading to increased inflammation.
For individuals with RA, or other autoimmune or chronic conditions, inflammation worsens their health. But this isn’t limited to those with known conditions; it applies to everyone. High inflammation levels in the body can lead to cell damage and increase the risk of various diseases. For that reason, we should all aim to reduce inflammation levels as much as possible.
Signs and Symptoms That Might be Related to Gluten
Many of us associate gastrointestinal upset with possible reactions to gluten, but there are other symptoms to pay attention to that aren’t so obvious. It’s important to be aware of these symptoms, especially if you’re not able to attribute them to anything specific and you can’t seem to shake them:
The Good News!
Here’s the good news: we can control inflammation levels in our bodies, primarily through our food choices. Eliminating gluten from our diets is one of the most significant steps we can take to lower inflammation.
A quick note about gluten-free foods: Cutting gluten doesn’t mean replacing it with “gluten-free” processed products. These products are still processed and not ideal for health. Instead, focus on real, whole foods like organic fruits and vegetables, grass-fed meat, free-range poultry, and wild fish. These choices are gluten-free, nutrient-dense, and support not only gut health but overall well-being.
Whether or not you have a known health condition, aim to nourish your body with foods that reduce inflammation. Research shows that gluten can cause the gut lining’s tight junctions to open excessively, affecting everyone, not just those with Celiac disease. It’s also been linked to the formation of antibodies which can cause further damage. That’s why I avoid gluten-containing foods and recommend that my clients do the same. Gluten doesn’t offer any specific nutritional benefits, and in many cases, it’s the opposite. You’re not missing out on anything by cutting out the gluten!
Here’s a challenge for you: try eliminating gluten from your diet for at least 21 days and pay attention to how you feel. It won’t solve all your issues in that short time, but you’ll be amazed at the difference in how you feel mentally and physically.
If want to chat more about how gluten is impacting your symptoms and your health, CLICK HERE to book a call with me!