I get asked by many why I advocate going gluten free and the truth be known, I have seen more people experience a marked, if not 100% improvement in their health when they choose to eliminate ALL gluten from their diet than from any other food eliminations. To clarify, gluten is the protein portion found in a bunch of grains, including wheat, oats, rye, spelt, kamut and barely.
Ironically I am writing this post from a French patisserie in the West Village of New York city, not because I am a hypocrite and have a secret fetish for French pastries, but for the simple fact they offer a beautiful setting under a shady umbrella to shelter from the blistering New York heat wave that’s hit town.
I personally have avoided gluten for the best part of 20 years, even longer if you include a stint imposed by my forward thinking mother when I was ten years old, subsequent to experiencing difficulty sleeping and concentrating in class. Thankfully eliminating gluten had the desired effect because of the impact it has on the brain – primarily the neurotransmitter serotonin – which regulates our sleep, mood and appetite – although I’m not sure how well my gluten free lunch went down in the playground back then. Thankfully now days it’s a lot easier and socially acceptable to eat gluten free than when I was a kid, although there still remains a lot of confusion and a certain stigma attached to being an advocate of GF eating, unless you’re a diagnosed coeliac.
Twenty to thirty odd years ago, incidence of gluten sensitivity did not exist to the extent it does today, except in the form of Coeliac disease – the auto immune condition where suffers are unable to digest the gluten protein in many grains and subsequently experience acute reactions in the form diarrhea, intestinal spasming and pain and chronic mal-absorption. But the incidence of both coeliac and gluten intolerance or sensitivity is on the rise and you don’t need to be a coeliac for gluten to wreak havoc upon your health.
My theory as to why so many people suffer a gluten intolerance, stems from the gut related issues so widely experienced now days. I can safely say that of the thousands of patients I treated in clinical practice, Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS, was the rule rather than the exception – whether it be in the form of regular gut aches, bloating, flatulence, diarrhea, constipation – anything less than one proper bowel movement per day. The reason behind our excessively gassy, bloated, aching guts and irregular bowel function boils down to a few yet significant factors:
- The over prescription of antibiotics – just one course of antibiotics has a detrimental effect of your intestinal flora or good bacteria colonies and can take years to fully replenish without supplementing with a quality probiotic. These friendly bacteria play a more powerful role in regulating healthy immune responses than probably any other factor, so if you absolutely need to take a course of antibiotic’s and I mean it has to be life threatening, then be sure to supplement for 3 – 6 months with a quality probiotic and gut wall repair supplement to prevent increased risk of mal-absorption and food sensitivities.
- Over use of antacids – such as Nexium or Mylanta significantly reduce the production of hydrochloric acid – the substance produced by our stomach to digest food – in particular protein. Undigested food particles from inhibited hydrochloric acid production, pierce holes in the intestinal membrane or wall, increasing inflammatory immune responses as well excess penetration of bad bacteria and mal-absorption of essential nutrients such as B12 and iron.
- Long term use of the oral contraceptive pill – another enemy to our intestinal flora – if you must choose the pill for contraception, I strongly recommend taking a quality probiotic to prevent long term damage to your intestinal flora colonies and increased risk of developing food sensitivities and IBS.
- Increased exposure to toxins – including artificial food additives and excessive consumption of high gluten grains – primarily wheat – places undue stress on our digestive systems, increasing the risk of food sensitivities and intolerances. I recommend undertaking a quality digestive repair and detox program, at least annually to keep your digestive system in optimal health.
- Stress – chronic stress has become synonymous with modern day living, but the impact it has on our stress hormones, such as cortisol, significantly impacts our immune function, leaving us more susceptible to food sensitivities and infections from cold and flu viruses.
- Excess grain intake – now days we consume a diet predominantly based on grains – in particular wheat. Considering a typical day for many begins with a hefty serve of wheat based cereal and toast, followed by a wheat based snack such as a muffin or biscuit, a sandwich made on wheat bread for lunch, another wheat based afternoon snack such as crackers and a pasta for dinner, it’s little wonder our immune systems are over reacting to gluten! The truth be known – our digestive system is simply not designed to contend with such a heavily grain based diet, let alone so much gluten. To add further insult to injury, farmers now grow wheat with a higher gluten content to produce a greater yield which translates to a greater profit.
Commercially baked brands of bread are also part of the problem since most have added preservatives, sugar and mold inhibiters to increase the shelf life and flavor. Breads baked the traditional way are far healthier, because the grains have been presoaked, fermented or sprouted, and given a long rise time which enables much of the gluten to be predigested through the natural fermentation process.
So now that I’ve established the reasons why so many of us are experiencing an intolerance to gluten, I want to cover one last aspect on gluten free living – the issue of clever and deceptive marketing techniques employed by manufactures to fool us into buying their products because we typically deem ‘gluten free’ as synonymous with ‘healthy’. But just before you go nuts in the gluten free shopping aisle; consider the fact that many GF products – including those in the health food section or store are loaded with sugar, even artificial additives and bad fats! So don’t be fooled into thinking gluten free translates to a healthy food choice and be sure to ALWAYS take the time to read food labels before purchasing and check for added sugar and artificial ingredients. I wrote a previous post about interpreting food labels here so take a squiz and get educated on how to read food labels and be in better control of your health.
My advice if your still not sold on the health benefits of going gluten free would be to test it out for yourself – eliminate ALL gluten from your diet for a minimum of two weeks – ideally 4 – this includes wheat, rye, oats, kamut, spelt and barely as well as checking for hidden gluten added to many processed food products. Then observe how you feel within your digestive system and energy wise as well as in your brain – many of my patients reported a marked improvement in their mental and cognitive function, including mood.
Be sure to let me know how you go as I’d love to hear about your experiences.