What gives – with Gluten?

March 16, 2015 by

The Trend Away From Gluten

Two of my women folk – my wife and a grand daughter – can not tolerate gluten in their diets. This is something new that has developed over the last 60 years. When I was a teenager, nobody had even heard of gluten much less being affected by it – at least not in my circle of friends and acquaintances.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a composite of the storage proteins gliadin and glutenin. It, together with starch, forms the endosperm, which surrounds the embryo in a wheat kernel and provides nutrition to the emerging plant at germination. It is present in wheat and related grain varieties such as barley and rye.

Wheat represents about 20% of the world's food supply. It is contained in bread, pasta, most baked goods but also in lots of other processed foods as soups,sauces, condiments, dressings etc. It has been used for thousands of years.

How can it all of a sudden be so damaging to health?

One scientifically proven cause of gluten intolerance is celiac disease. It is a condition in which eating gluten damages the interior of the small intestine. The damage prevents people from absorbing nutrients from their food, causing malnutrition, osteoporosis, infertility and even cancer. 1% of the North American population have celiac disease, yet one third of the same group are on gluten free diets.

Could there be another cause for this widespread gluten intolerance or are we looking here at a type of hysteria of people just jumping on the bandwagon because it seems the thing to do?

A number of theories have emerged but no clear scientific answer has come forth.

William Davis in his book “Wheat Bellies” blames gluten for everything from asthma and arthritis to schizophrenia. He says that wheat is a product of genetic research and that the bread we eat today is not what people were consuming as little as 50 years ago.

Another book, “Grain Brain”, by David Perlmutter, claims that gluten sensitivity is one of the greatest and most under – recognized health threats of humanity. He says, that some 40% of us can't properly process gluten and the remaining 60% could be in harms way.

April Peveteaux in her book “ Gluten Is My Bitch” states: “No matter what kind of sickness has taken hold of you, let's blame gluten”, in a tongue in cheek kind of way.

People accept this type of information and decide that gluten is the true cause of their intestinal problems and this compels them to follow the trend, when a mere indigestion or whatever might be the real problem.

Then, there are some other thoughts:

Most of the wheat today is grown with chemical fertilizers in soil devoid of life. It has very few vitamins and nutrients, but plenty of gluten. It is ground into white flour and can cause the sharp increase in blood sugar that is symptomatic of diabetes and other chronic diseases.

On the other hand, Donald Kasarda, researcher at the US Department of Agriculture and Joseph Murray, Professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic and the President of the North American Society of the Study of Celiac Disease, who have both studied wheat genetics, agree that wheat is not much different than it was 50 years ago. Chemically the contents just have not changed a lot and they don't think, this problem can be linked to the genetics of wheat.

Yet the incidents of celiac Disease have increased four times over a period of 60 years. In trying to find out about the long term effects of undiagnosed celiac disease, Murray analysed blood samples taken from 9000 Air force recruits between 1948 and 1954 and found markers of celiac disease in only 0.2% of the samples. Current samples taken from a demographically similar group produced 1% of positive markers.

So something changed in the environment that caused this increase.

Maybe it is the modern diet with all the preservatives and additives but this is all just speculation.

However, there is growing evidence that the many bacterial species or lack there of, in our digestive tract, can have a dramatic influence on our health. What about the rise of Antibiotics over that period of time and their affect on this intestinal fauna?

And then there are other components in wheat.

Peter Gibson, a Professor at Monat University and Director of Gastroenterology at Alfred Hospital in Melbourne assisted by his team did a study in which they recruited 37 people unable to digest gluten properly. They put these people on a gluten free diet that was also free of what they called FOMAPS (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides). FOMAPS are osmotic carbohydrates which means, they pull water into the intestinal tract, that can cause abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea. When they enter the colon undigested, bacteria start breaking them down, which causes fermentation resulting in gas - another cause of distress.
After 2 weeks on this diet, the group felt better. Then some of the people were secretly given food that contained gluten. Non of the symptoms recurred, proving, that the FOMAPS rather than gluten were the culprit.

To summarize:

Celiac Disease, a condition causing a scientifically proven aversion to gluten, has increased from 0.2% of the population to 1.0% over a period of 60 years. We don't know , “Why”.

There must be other sources of intestinal distress. Such as:

  • Genetic manipulation of wheat and other grains.
  • Grains grown in depleted soil.
  • Modern food preservatives and other additives.
  • Depleted intestinal fauna, due to Antibiotics.
  • FOMAPS
  • Maybe even the result of eating GMOs.
  • And then there are a slew of clinical causes, like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Cancer, Bacterial Infection etc.

Despite all of this confusion, one third of the North American population has now opted for a gluten free diet. A good portion of them, with the silent and possibly mistaken hope of some weight loss.

This is creating a whole new market for gluten free products which is more and more controlled by big companies and is projected to reach a volume of fifteen billion dollars by 2016 – a five fold increase from 5 years ago.

Some of these new products are highly questionable in terms of the nutritional values and quality of their content.

In my opinion, the best way to achieve both intestinal well being and weight loss, is to adopt a balanced diet of organic food. If that does not fix what ails you, go see a doctor and get tested for celiac disease. Should that turn out negative, get him to diagnose what else it could be, that hurts you tummy, before you decide to join the gluten free group.

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