Gluten Free...fashionable hype or healthier choice?
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.
I've personally 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.
Nowadays 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, the incidence of gluten sensitivity did not exist to the extent it does today, as the only recognisable gluten issue was Coeliac disease – an autoimmune condition where sufferers are unable to digest gluten causing acute reactions in the form diarrhea, intestinal spasms and pain and chronic malabsorption and nutrient deficiencies and anemia.
Interestingly gluten sensitivity is far more common than coeliac disease, although both are 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 are suffering with a gluten sensitivity today, relates to the break down in our gut function as well as the fact we are consuming so much more gluten compared to a hundred years ago or less. I can safely say that of the thousands of patients I've treated through my clinic typically struggle with some form of digestive related issue, most commonly - IBS - Irritable Bowel Syndrome which presents with gut aches and pains, bloating, flatulence, diarrhea and or constipation.
I believe that the reason so many of are suffering from excessively gassy, bloated, aching guts and poor bowel function. boils down to a few significant factors:
The over prescription of antibiotics
A single course of antibiotics can have 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 antibiotics 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 malabsorption and food sensitivities.
Over use of antacids
Drugs like 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 malabsorption 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.
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.
Nowadays 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 inhibitors to increase the shelf life and flavor. Breads baked the traditional way are far healthier, because the grains have been pre-soaked, 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 you're 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 barley 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.