What's with Gluten?

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Hi. This is Hiba again. I wanted to do a follow-up blog to the blog on CBD since treating any dis-ease or illness is always a multi-faceted approach. Yes, it would be nice to have that one miracle thing that cures all of our ailments but as we all know, it takes a lot more to get our health on track. That is why I wanted to write this blog on gluten. Diet is a key component to treating any ailment. Although the science about the human microbiome is in its early stages, scientists are discovering that the internal complex ecosystem of bacteria located within our bodies that we call the microbiome help govern nearly every function of the human body in some way. The importance of our gut microbiome cannot be overstated: Poor gut health can contribute to a range of disorders and diseases, some not even seemingly connected to the gut.

What is gluten?

Gluten refers to the proteins in grains, such as wheat, barley and rye. It is a mixture of hundreds of proteins, although it is primarily made up of two different classes: gliadin, which gives bread the ability to rise during baking, and glutenin, which is responsible for dough's elasticity. Not all grains contain gluten. Some examples of gluten-free grains are sorghum, millet, brown rice, buckwheat, wild rice, amaranth, quinoa, corn (polenta) and teff. Oats are also gluten-free, but can be contaminated during processing. Google the word gluten and you will find that it is commonly linked with celiac disease.When someone with celiac disease consumes gluten, it triggers an immune response that damages their intestines, preventing them from absorbing vital nutrients. The chronic gastrointestinal disorder called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is another condition that is affected by gluten. Gluten grains are high in starches and sugars that can be easily fermented by intestinal bacteria. This can cause bloating, cramping and/or diarrhea.

Why is gluten such a problem now?

We are no longer eating the wheat that our ancestors ate. In order to have the drought-resistant, bug-resistant, and faster-growing wheat that we have today, the grain has been hybridized. It's estimated that 5% of the proteins found in hybridized wheat are new proteins that were not found in either of the original wheat plants. These "new proteins" are part of the problem that has led to increased inflammation and intolerance to gluten. Today’s wheat has also been deamidated, which allows it to be water soluble and capable of being mixed into virtually every kind of packaged food. This deamidation has been shown to produce a large immune response in many people. Lastly, in our modern fast-paced world, we are eating much more wheat than our ancestors ever did.

What happens when we eat gluten?

The foods you eat have a big impact on your microbiome. Gluten specifically can cause demonstrable, long-term changes in your gut bacteria, including reducing the amount of certain types of important bacteria in your gut. Gluten can also affect part of the immune system, 80% of which resides in your gut, called the gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT). If you are gluten-intolerant or sensitive, the components that gluten is broken down into register with your GALT as a problem, so it signals to your body to create antibodies to attack it.

How does gluten cause intestinal permeability, AKA leaky gut?

In order to absorb nutrients, our gut is somewhat permeable to very small molecules. Regulating intestinal permeability is one of the basic functions of the cells that line the intestinal wall. In sensitive people, gluten can cause the gut cells to release zonulin, a protein that can break the tight junctions apart. Once these tight junctions get broken apart, you're considered to have a leaky gut. When your gut is leaky, toxins, microbes and undigested food particles — among other things — escape from your intestines and travel throughout your body via your bloodstream. One of the things allowed to escape are the antibodies your body produced to attack the gliadin in the first place. What starts as a gut problem can quickly spread to the rest of the body, which is why people who have a problem with gluten may see health problems showing up in seemingly unrelated places, like the thyroid gland, the skin, or even the brain.

There is a connection between autism and the gut?

There appears to be an intestinal health component to autism. It has been discovered that neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) that are present in your brain are also present in your gut and that there is a gut-brain connection that could be the key in understanding autoimmune diseases. And while scientists are still not entirely sure whether your brain controls your intestines or vice versa, they do know that there is a concrete connection between your intestines and your brain. In 2003, Dr. Timothy Buie, a pediatric gastroenteroligist from Harvard, presented his work on the gut-brain connection and how it relates to autism. In Dr. Buie's experience treating autistic patients, he found there was improvement as their gut problems were addressed and healed. While there are plenty of theories on how food may affect neurological functioning, diet can be an excellent way to ease the painful gastrointestinal symptoms sometimes associated with autism.

Many studies that been done on mice to study the effects of gluten on gut health have found that mice who were fed a gluten-free diet had significantly more of several types of important gut bacteria than those who were fed a diet containing gluten. There was also a strong correlation between the presence of gluten in the mice’s diet and how likely it was for them to struggle with blood sugar. In another study, which was done on humans, researchers found that people who went on a gluten-free diet for four weeks had significant changes in the types of bacteria in their guts.

What should you do if you suspect you're gluten intolerant?

If you have a sensitivity to gluten, you might just feel bloated, have an upset stomach, or find yourself in the bathroom more often than normal. If you’re fully gluten-intolerant, then things get more serious. The single best way to determine if you have an issue with gluten is to eliminate it from your diet for at least three weeks, then reintroduce it. If you feel significantly better without gluten or feel worse when you reintroduce it, then gluten is likely a problem.

The great news is, even small changes can make a huge difference in the health of your gut flora, and it’s never too late to start!