How gluten makes 1 in 10 sick
Dr Rodney Ford, Associate Professor at Christchurch School of Medicine and a Paediatric Gastroenterologist and allergy specialist has been investigating the relationship between food and health for over 25 years.
In this time he has treated thousands of unwell children, and discovered that many of them are sick due to gluten sensitivity. He has seen many people, both children and adults cured from a huge range of chronic ailments by cutting gluten from their diet. His research shows that around 10% of the population are gluten sensitive and are suffering needlessly, not realising that gluten is making them chronically sick and unwell.
Gluten is everywhere in our diet – it is the protein found in wheat, rye and barley. It is used extensively by the food industry and added to many processed foods.
Gluten is a very difficult to digest protein. Proteins are long strings of amino acids linked together. Each different protein is a specific sequence of amino acids. During digestion all proteins are broken down into their individual amino acids, so you can use them to rebuild and repair all your cells. Think of long lines of Lego blocks of different colours all locked together – the enzymes in our gut literally pull them all apart, so we can reassemble them to make proteins for building and repairing our entire body.
The problem is that at least 1 in 10 people lack the enzymes to pull apart gluten during digestion. The amino acids in gluten are arranged in a sequence that is difficult to pull apart. The gluten protein is damages the cells that line the gut, and gaps open up between the cells allowing partially broken down food and particles from bacteria through. Normally cells are glued tightly together, so only fully digested food can pass through the cells into the bloodstream. The gluten protein fragment called a peptide (5 – 7 amino acids long) can enter the bloodstream through the gaps and starts causing problems. Gluten peptides can be toxic to some cells, and can also cause an auto-immune reaction where the body starts attacking itself. Most general medical practitioners are simply not aware of the extent of gluten sensitivity and do not investigate gluten sensitivity as a cause if niggling ailments. Note that celiac disease – a full blown gut disorder of severe gluten intolerance affects 1 in 100 people, however gluten sensitivity while not life threatening like celiac disease affects another 10 in 100 people. Some doctors and nutritionists put this figure higher and some think all people are affected to some degree by gluten.
How do you know if you might be gluten sensitive?
Here is a list of problems that gluten sensitive people often suffer from:
Always tired, low energy
Gut problems – bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, discomfort, IBS, in fact any gut / bowel disorder
Reflux or heartburn
Headaches or migraine
Child not growing well, small or thin for age
Skin problems, adult acne, eczema, bad skin
Infertility or recurrent miscarriages
Chronic iron deficiency
Poor immunity, recurrent infections
Runny nose and sinus problems
Depressed, moody or grumpy
Foggy brain, hard to think clearly or concentrate
Osteoporosis or growing pains
Aches and pains and joint inflammation
Menstrual problems, pain, PMS, bloating, bad menopausal symptoms
ADHD, hyperactive, cranky, irritable, prone to tantrums
Mental health problems, autism
You may also be a gluten addict- gluten acts as a morphine like substance (gluteomorphine) and many people are literally addicted to their next fix, so are constantly eating bread and other wheat products.
If you have any of these health issues Dr Ford recommends you get tested for gluten sensitivity. This is not the same as the celiac test for gluten intolerance and some doctors may question the validity of the test. However this test is essential to confirm gluten sensitivity. It is called the IgG-gliadin antibody test. If the test result is more than 10 it shows that your body is making antibodies to gluten, that is – it is reacting to gluten as though it is a foreign invader. You only react to gluten peptides if you don’t digest them properly and they are going into your bloodstream.
Why is gluten such a big problem for many people?
Grains are a relatively recent addition to our diet, only in the last 10,000 years have we settled and grown grains. Previous to this people ate what they could hunt or gather. Growing and eating grains has especially increased over the last few 100 years. Many of us do not have the appropriate gut enzymes to break down gluten. As well, the current food pyramid and its emphasis on grains has encouraged us all to eat more.
How does gluten cause so many problems?
Gluten affects the gut from the stomach all the way through, and it appears to affect the nerve system controlling the gut. This causes reflux and indigestion in the stomach, and bloating, discomfort, and diarrhoea or constipation lower down. It can cause inflammation, damage the gut lining, and result in poor nutrient absorption.
Gluten can damage nerves
Gluten also appears to affect the brain and nervous system. Studies on people with celiac disease show many have neuromuscular problems, including peripheral neuropathy and ataxia (difficulty with movement co-ordination). It appears that antibodies made in reaction to gluten can also cause inflammation and damage to some nerve and brain cells.
If you have any neuromuscular problems, Dr Ford urges you to get tested for gluten sensitivity, or try a gluten free diet.
In the book the The Gluten Effect, Doctors treating people with fibromyalgia say they “have witnessed over and over again the resolution of the classic muscle aches and tender points in response to gluten elimination. Adrenal fatigue, poor blood sugar control and hidden infections round out the most frequent causes of this condition that we find. Among our patients who have enjoyed this response, there is no question as to the link between fibromyalgia and gluten sensitivity.”
Gluten also appears to affect the brain in many people causing foggy thinking, depression and ADHD symptoms. In children with autism, many parents have anecdotally seen improvements in their children by eliminating all gluten.
If you suspect you may be gluten sensitive I recommend this excellent book by Dr Rodney Ford: “Full of it! The shocking truth about gluten, The grain brain connection” And have a look at his website http://www.drrodneyford.com. Another book “The Gluten Effect”, by Drs. Vikki and Richard Petersen http://www.thegluteneffect.com/ also explains how this common and curable problem affects health in so many ways.
You could also try a completely gluten free diet, very easy to do using Paleo diet principles.
Simply eat food like a hunter and gatherer. Lean protein (meat, eggs, fish, seafood, and protein powders). Vegetables and fruit – especially those with colour. Fresh nuts, cold pressed oils, avocado and olives for good fat. Cut out all gluten grains including wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt, kamut and triticale.
You need to cut out every source of gluten – and it can be found everywhere, in many foods that have been factory processed.
After 3 – 4 weeks you can try a gluten food to see if it affects you, note that some people have a delayed effect where symptoms are experienced 3- 4 days after eating gluten.
Gluten: What You Don’t Know Might Kill You Dr Mark Hyman
Gluten Sensitivity, Celiac Disease is the tip of the Iceberg, Stephan Guyenet, PhD
Gluten Intolerance NZ web site
Gluten Free Kiwi
Dr Rodney Ford, Gastroenterologist, Gluten and Allergy Specialist, books and website
Must read books if you think you might be gluten sensitive
Website, Gluten FAQ’s