Gluten is a composite formed from several different proteins. It is found most commonly in wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut, oats, durum, einkorn, farro, graham, and semolina. Adding texture and a characteristic chewiness to baked goods, gluten is used in a wide variety of other foods as a thickener and binder, flavor enhancer, and protein supplement.
Within gluten, there are actually four main proteins: albumins, glutelins, globulins, and prolamins. Glutelins and prolamins are found in higher concentrations in wheat, while albumins and globulins are more plentiful in corn and rice. Glutelins in wheat, in particular, are dangerous for those susceptible to gluten intolerance and sensitivity because of the way that acids in the body break them down, leading to an abnormal immune response.
The cells of the immune system produce antibodies and other cellular products that begin to react against normal, healthy tissue, causing inflammation and damage. Gluten sensitivity is an autoimmune disease that creates inflammation throughout the body, with wide-ranging effects across all organ systems. Gluten can inflame the brain by causing an autoimmune response.
A review paper in The New England Journal of Medicine listed 55 “diseases” that can be caused by eating gluten, including celiac disease, osteoporosis, irritable bowel disease, inflammatory bowel disease, anemia, cancer, fatigue, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and almost all other autoimmune diseases. Gluten is also linked to many psychiatric and neurological diseases, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, dementia, migraines, epilepsy, and neuropathy (nerve damage). It has also been linked to autism.
The Ways Gluten Affects the Body & the Brain:
- Through inflammation, and
- As excitotoxins
The autoimmune reaction, where the body’s immune system starts attacking normal tissue in response to eating gluten will continue as long as these food products are in the diet. Gluten intolerance may lead to a varying degree of intestinal damage that increases the risk for malabsorption of food, which cause nutritional deficiencies and may also result in conditions, such as iron deficiency anemia, osteopenia, and osteoporosis.
During the digestion process, gluten can be broken down into individual proteins that are a lot like psychedelic drugs. These are opium-like proteins called gluteomorophins, which can drastically change brain function and behavior.
The gluten can affect the brain is due to its high content of glutamate (similar to MSG), a molecule that accelerates, activates, irritates and damages brain cells through a special “docking station” called the NMDA receptor. Excessive activity in this receptor due to glutamate has been linked to many psychiatric disorders. Glutamate is an excitotoxin, a substance that agitates and kills or damages brain cells.
Have we adapted to gluten?
Grains contain poisons, i.e. gluten, in their husks to fight back against predators. Some creatures, like birds, have adapted to overcome the defenses of gluten-containing cereal grains. However, most mammals are not adapted to grains and do not eat them in substantial quantities. This includes the humans. Even though, our bodies have not adapted, our diet have significantly changed to include industrialized, processed grains.
The body’s reaction to gluten:
- It eats away at your gut lining. If the gut is damaged, you do not absorb nutrients.
- It messes with the gall bladder and bile production. If you do not absorb fats and fat soluble nutrients such as vitamins A, D, K, and other nutrients, you will have problems utilizing any minerals you do absorb, to say nothing of the nutrient deficiencies from inadequate essential fats.
- Phytates tightly bind to metal ions and make them unavailable for absorption.
- All of which can lead to autoimmune disease and cancer. Once the gut lining is damaged, we are at exceptionally high risk of autoimmune disease, such as Hashimoto’s, and several types of cancer, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The pancreas is assailed by grain-induced inflammation due to CCK problems and elevated insulin levels. This inflammation is a potential cause of pancreatic cancer and pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas).
Gluten & Thyroid: Mistaken identity
The molecular structure of gliadin, the protein portion of gluten, closely resembles that of the thyroid gland. When gliadin breaches the protective barrier of the gut, and enters the bloodstream, the immune system tags it for destruction. These antibodies to gliadin also cause the body to attack thyroid tissue.
Is moderation a possible choice?
Gluten is one of those cases where moderation is not possible. Even the smallest amount of gluten can trigger an autoimmune response, from a drop of soy sauce or a whole loaf of wheat bread. The immune response to gluten is delayed, which means that it may not manifest until up to 4 days later and may last in the body for up to 6 months each time.
It is important to be aware of the presence of gluten in many of the grocery items besides the typical culprits, such as bread, crackers, cookies, biscuits, breaded meat, croutons, pasta, pizza crust, noodles, muffins, noodles, and cake. There may be unexpected items that contain gluten that you may have never thought about before, so it is VITAL to read the labels on everything that comes prepackaged:
- Soy sauce
- Malt vinegar
- Blue cheese
- Root beer
- Cold-cut meats
- Canned fruits and vegetables
- Boxed/canned soups
- Dry mustard powder
- Salad dressings
- Lower end brands of chocolate
- Communion wafers
- Curry powder
Remember to read all your ingredient labels! Choose whole foods and gluten-free foods that don’t have a label!
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Be healthy & happy, Dr. Tijana
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