I want to bring to your attention one of the most common conditions I see in my functional diagnostic medicine practice known as “Gluten Intolerance.” Nowadays, you can’t get through any retail grocery store without seeing gluten-free options available everywhere from bread products to pasta to cookies and everywhere in between.
Research conducted by Dr. Alessio Fasano, medical director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Celiac Research, and Dr. Peter Green, director of the Celiac Disease Center indicates that between 5% and 10% of all people may suffer from a gluten sensitivity of some form. (1) This doesn’t include the part of the population that suffers from a bonafide gluten allergy (like Celiac Disease) where consuming gluten offers serious health consequences. We are talking about the larger portion of Americans who are simply intolerant to gluten and are now dealing with serious health conditions that are clearing up when gluten is reduced or eliminated from their diets. To really know if you or someone you love might be sensitive to gluten, you first need to understand what exactly gluten is.
What is Gluten?
Gluten comes from the latin word for “glue” and is most commonly found in wheat, barley and rye. Gluten is a protein that when eaten, breaks down into glutenin and gliadin in your digestive tract. Think about a piece of bread. Gluten is what gives bread that spongy, doughy texture yet, wreaks havoc on our digestive tract when consumed daily. Remember, over 70% of your immune systems lies within your digestive tract so if we’re eating a “protein-like-glue” on a daily basis it will begin to cause the cells within the lining to inflame, eventually separate and become leaky. “Leaky-gut Syndrome” is real health challenge that I talk about often because it is an extremely common condition my patients deal with. If you are dealing with a “Leaky-gut” the otherwise tight junctions of your digestive tract are inflamed, loose/leaky and thereby allowing allowing toxins, antigens, and bacteria to enter and circulate in your bloodstream. (2) I’m finding that it’s now more important than ever to educate yourself more with where gluten may be “hiding.” If you suspect a sensitivity to gluten, or simply want to improve your current state of health – it’s super easy to avoid the “obvious suspects” like pasta, bread and baked goods, but what about the not-so-obvious culprits?
Other Names for Gluten
Gluten is found in countless processed foods without being labeled! For example, gluten can hide under a variety of labels, including the following (for the most comprehensive list, please visit celiac.org):
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)
- Texturized vegetable protein (TVP)
- Natural flavoring
Did you also know that gluten can also be found cosmetics, supplements and medications, unless otherwise labeled “gluten-free”? Other items that must be verified by reading the label or contacting the manufacturer: (3)
- Lipstick, lipgloss, and lip balm because they are unintentionally ingested
- Communion wafers
- Herbal or nutritional supplements
- Drugs and over-the-counter medications
- Vitamins and supplements
- Play-dough: children may touch their mouths or eat after handling wheat-based play-dough
Non-celiac Gluten Sensitivity
Celiac disease is a severe gluten allergy and rare disorder affecting less than 1% percent of our population. (4) However, emerging research shows that for every one person who suffers from Celiac disease, there are seven who suffer from gluten intolerance, or, Non-celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS). NCGS has been coined to describe those individuals who cannot tolerate gluten and experience non-gastrointestinal symptoms typically appearing hours or days after gluten has been ingested. (5)
Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance
People who have NCGS or gluten intolerance sometimes experience symptoms identical to that of many autoimmune diseases because of gluten’s role in causing inflammation. Patient’s describe experiencing one or all of the following:
- Inability to Lose Weight
- Hair loss
- Brain fog
- Joint or Bone pain
- Numbness in the Legs, Arms or Fingers
The most common healthcare goal new patients report to me is “inability to lose weight,” with their top concern being “hormonal imbalance.” Poor digestion and Leaky-gut are just two of the reasons why patients can’t seem to get their hormones balanced, lose weight and keep it off. Gluten Intolerance is largely to blame. If you think a gluten sensitivity might be the reason you are not operating at 100% then contact me HERE and let’s rule out this and all other food sensitivities. At the end of the day – you can try EVERY diet in the world, but if you don’t know how to work with your body chemistry (i.e. avoiding foods you are intolerant to) you simply can’t results.
Commonly Overlooked Sources of Gluten
Most of my patients are shocked to discover they have a gluten intolerance when they don’t eat bread, pasta or baked goods. Unfortunately, unless otherwise labeled “gluten-free” you can almost always find gluten in:
- Condiments (ketchup, salad dressing, mustard, BBQ sauce, etc.)
- Soy sauce
Shockingly, supplements, medications and even cosmetics can contain gluten unless otherwise labeled as gluten-free, so if you decide to eliminate gluten from your diet to see if your current state of health improves, please be aware that your biggest tool will be: Reading Labels. If you’re not already is a label reader, it’s as simple as taking that product and reading the ingredients before you purchase it. If there’s anything that is containing wheat or wheat flour or other code names for gluten that I mentioned above, then you can be sure to go ahead and put it back.
When deciding to remove gluten from your diet or the diet of a loved one – it can seem daunting! Especially if you are feeding kids. But I have to tell you that you can make it super easy on yourself by keeping a few gluten-free staples on hand (like the ones I always have in my pantry!) When it’s pasta night my family loves Jovial gluten-free pasta and has never noticed the difference from regular macaroni. When baking muffins or making waffles I like to grind a few cups of Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-free Quick Oats in my high-speed blender, into a flour, for quick gluten-free baking. And don’t forget your “nut-flours!” Almost any nut can be easily ground in a high-speed blender into a delicious flour so have fun experimenting with almonds, cashews, etc. Lastly, within the last few years, my new favorite, gluten-free flour for everything from pancakes to brownies is Cassava flour. Cassava flour comes from the yucca plant and I’ve found it to be a convenient 1:1 conversion in traditional recipes.