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You've probably noticed how many people are going gluten free, but what's all the hype about? Is it just the newest food fad, or does it help? Do you ever wonder if you should go gluten free?
First, it's important to understand what gluten is. Gluten is a protein in wheat. It's part of what allows bread to rise, and it's what gives dough its elasticity.
People who have celiac disease, a genetically based autoimmune disease, don't tolerate wheat at all. It causes damage to the intestines and can cause malnutrition and a failure to grow, as well as myriad other symptoms, including gastrointestinal problems and symptoms outside the GI tract. People with celiac disease can't tolerate any wheat; even contamination of utensils can cause symptoms in a celiac.
However, many people suffer from gluten sensitivity, which is a separate entity from celiac. People with gluten sensitivities don't have the kinds of gluten antibodies found in celiacs, but they can have symptoms nonetheless. These symptoms can include abdominal pain, IBS symptoms, diarrhea or constipation, and many symptoms throughout the body. Sufferers may experience fatigue, joint pain, muscle pain, headaches, and skin rashes, to name a few.
Intolerance to gluten can be triggered by a leaky gut, a condition in which our body’s immune system responds to the presence of certain particles by producing inflammation. In this case, an IgG intolerance can develop, rendering the person intolerant to the wheat. This is not a true food allergy; it's a food intolerance.
Although it's not clear exactly why so many people have a gluten intolerance, one theory is that the protein itself has changed over the years, and is now a “stronger” protein to which our bodies are unaccustomed. It also probably doesn’t help that in the typical American diet, wheat is generally consumed in very large amounts; people often consume 6-8 servings a day of this inflammatory food.
So if you're suffering from GI symptoms that haven’t been resolved, or any of a variety of chronic complaints like those mentioned above, it can be vary helpful to try a gluten-free diet. Generally, going off gluten for 6-8 weeks will be enough time to see what effect it might have. When trying a gluten-free diet, it's important to keep track of your symptoms both when you go off it and when you reintroduce it.
So what do you eat? There are many gluten-free products on the market, but be careful — just because it’s labeled “gluten free” doesn’t mean it’s healthy. The product might be filled with processed ingredients that don’t include gluten!
Generally, a diet of fresh whole foods will eliminate this problem. Sometimes it’s a challenge, but if you find that your joint pain is resolved, your headaches have decreased and your energy is improved, it's probably worth it.
The reintroduction of gluten can be tricky. You need to be sure to try it for 2-4 days and watch for reactions, symptoms or other changes in your body. I find it best to keep a diary of what you eat and how you feel for that time to assist you in interpreting the experience.
So if you're wondering about a gluten-free diet and you have symptoms, I encourage you to give it a try. You might just reclaim your health and vitality!