It’s become a buzzword nowadays, GLUTEN! But what exactly is it? And why are people up in arms about it? Some of us have heard of Celiac Disease and the harm that can be caused by gluten to those that have Celiac but what about the rest of us?
“What the hell is gluten anyway?” I’m glad I asked! Gluten is actually a protein that is found in wheats, cereals, and grains. Have you ever seen a cart of strawberries that says “GLUTEN-FREE” or a pint of chocolate ice cream that reads the same? These products, natural or otherwise, won’t contain gluten because they are not grains! Gluten is naturally occurring, but it can be extracted, concentrated and added to foods. It can also be added to other products to add protein, texture and flavor. Gluten also works as a binding agent to hold processed foods together and give them shape.
Some people believe that this is a black and white issue: if you have celiac you have to be strictly gluten-free and if you don’t have celiac you can go pizza bagel or cronut crazy. What if there’s another option? Or a litany of options? Gluten sensitivity lands more on a spectrum than it does an on/off switch. It’s possible for people to not have Celiac Disease and still have difficulty breaking down gluten or worse, even having a reaction to gluten.
This is important because gluten intolerance, or sensitivity, can affect nearly every tissue in the body. This includes your brain, skin, endocrine system, stomach, liver, blood vessels, intestines, and cells. Celiac Disease and Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity are associated with a surprising variety of diseases including schizophrenia, epilepsy, Type 1 diabetes, osteoporosis, dermatitis, psoriasis, Hashimoto’s/hypothyroidism, Grave’s/hyperthyroidism and peripheral neuropathies. As you can see from the different types of diseases I just mentioned, gluten intolerance can be so broad and nonspecific that many patients and even doctors don’t suspect this as an underlying cause to many health issues.
Just to make it abundantly clear, this doesn’t mean that I’m some quack that believes that gluten is responsible for all chronic illness in all people, as some other internet gurus might suggest. But I think the research clearly supports the existence of non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and if anything, it is significantly under-diagnosed.
Left untreated, an intolerance to gluten can lead to a multitude of serious and debilitating health conditions. Determining whether you have a sensitivity and addressing it can save you time, money, and health in the future, ultimately improving your quality of life.