Gluten Intolerance

Do you suffer from fatigue, digestive problems, depression or weight gain but can’t seem to find the cause? It is very possible that you may be sensitive to gluten. Gluten intolerance has been found to be most common among people of Irish, English, Scottish, Scandinavian, and Eastern European. Often times it is assumed that gluten intolerance is a food allergy, but it is not. It is actually an autoimmune process, which affects an alarming percentage of the population.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats. A person with gluten intolerance cannot digest the protein portion of these commonly eaten grains. When this protein is ingested it combines with the enzyme transglutaminase to form an immune complex that deposits on the lining of the intestines. The body recognizes this as a foreign substance, and begins an immune reaction to the complex. Immune cells come into the area and release a series of toxins to try to “kill” this unidentified immune complex. These toxins from the immune system cause inflammation in the digestive system and damage the lining tissue. This is what causes the unexplained digestive symptoms like bloating, diarrhea, constipation, gas, and cramping. The toxins are also responsible for feelings of fatigue and malaise after a meal containing these foods.

The walls of the digestive tract are lined with immune cells that form a protective barrier called Secretory IgA. This lining protects against infectious agents such as bacteria, parasites, and funguses. If a person with gluten intolerance continues to eat the gluten, in time the constant inflammation and irritation in the digestive tract wears away the Secretory IgA. This depletion of immune cells makes a person very susceptible to infectious agents it would normally be able to fight off. The inflammation also begins to damage the small intestine. This affects the person’s ability to absorb the nutrients they need. You quite literally are what you eat and if your body isn’t able to properly absorb your food, you will suffer a myriad of symptoms.

The number one symptom associated with mal-absorption resulting from gluten intolerance is a combination of fatigue and weight gain. If you are not properly absorbing your food you will not be getting any of the nutrients from the food you eat. This will leave you constantly hungry and endlessly tired. Without proper absorption of nutrients, mineral and vitamin deficiencies can develop. Muscle cramping is a common symptom that can arise. The lack of magnesium impairs muscle contraction. Magnesium deficiency has also been linked to cardiovascular disease. An inability to absorb calcium can lead to osteoporosis. Mineral deficiency can also create feelings of restlessness and an inability to relax. It can also make sleep difficult and create insomnia. If you cannot absorb your B vitamins you will develop weakness, fatigue, and malaise. If you cannot absorb fats then you cannot control inflammation and since most hormones are made from cholesterol, you will not have the building blocks to synthesize hormones. This among other things can create hormone imbalances, interfering with your ability to handle stress and maintain a balanced emotional state. This also contributes to weight gain in a substantial way. Your hormones have a large effect on your metabolism and your ability to process fat and carbohydrates.

There is also a phenomenon that causes people to crave things that they are allergic to. There are many theories as to why this happens and the exact mechanism is not yet fully understood. But this is the reason why many people crave carbohydrates or become “addicted” to them much the way an alcoholic becomes addicted to alcohol.

Lining your intestinal tract are cells that create enzymes to digest food, unfortunately they too are damaged in this process. Lack of enzymes causes many digestive disturbances. For example, if the body cannot secrete the enzyme lactase, lactose can no longer be digested and the person becomes intolerant to dairy. They may also lose their ability to digest protein which can lead to a deficiency in amino acids, the building blocks for neurotransmitters such as serotonin. Low levels of serotonin have been medically linked to problems with depression and insomnia.

Eventually the digestive tract develops gaps in areas of constant inflammation which is referred to as leaky gut syndrome. When this occurs, food particles, parasites, bacteria, viruses, fungi and any other invaders can exit the GI tract and enter the blood stream and increase the body’s susceptibility to illness. This is also the origin of many food allergies as explained in previous newsletters. Food is meant to be fully digested, broken down and filtered through the liver before it ever enters the blood stream. As undigested food particles slip through the gaps into the blood stream, the body’s immune system sees them as foreign invaders and creates immune cells to them. Then next time you eat these foods the body remembers them as a potentially threatening invaders and creates a reaction to them resulting in a food allergy

Do any of the below symptoms apply to you?

Weight gain
Unexplained fatigue
Difficulty relaxing, feel tense frequently
Unexplained digestive problems
Female hormone imbalances, (PMS, menopausal symptoms)
Muscle or joint pain or stiffness of unknown cause Migraine like headaches
Food allergies/sensitivities
Difficulty digesting dairy products
Tendency to over consume alcohol
Overly sensitive to physical and emotional pain, cry easily
Cravings for sweets, bread, carbohydrates
Tendency to overeat sweets, bread, carbohydrates
Abdominal pain or cramping
Abdominal bloating or distention
Intestinal gas
“Love” specific foods
Eat when upset, eat to relax
Constipation or diarrhea of no known cause
Unexplained skin problems/rashes
Difficulty gaining weight
Osteoporosis/bone loss
Iron deficiency/anemia
Chronic fatigue

Count the number of yes answers in the above quiz. If you scored 4 or less it is very unlikely that you have a gluten sensitivity. If you scored between 5 and 8 there may be a reason to suspect it. If you scored 9 or higher there can be a good chance that you are gluten sensitive.

If you scored 5 or higher on the questionnaire, you have a few choices. You can confirm this by getting an Alcat or Stool Test from our office which will accurately show if you are sensitive to gluten. Some conventional doctors may also offer the test, but be careful and make sure it is the correct test as many allergists only offer skin prick tests which are not accurate for gluten sensitivity. If you prefer to do it yourself, you can just eliminate all gluten-containing foods from your diet for two months. At the end of the two months you will notice significant relief (if not elimination) from your symptoms if you are in fact gluten intolerant. If you identify yourself as gluten intolerant via the test or food elimination you will need to remain gluten-free to avoid the unwanted and harmful effects of gluten on your body.

Gluten-free means avoiding all foods containing gluten, including wheat, rye, spelt, bulgar, semolina, couscous, kamut and some oats. Gluten can be hidden in processed foods and thickened products such as sauces and soups so read labels carefully. While this can be an adjustment at first, eating gluten free if you are sensitive will make a huge difference in your health. It is also much easier now because more and more people are finding out they are sensitive and thus manufacturers are making many more gluten-free items.

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