A popular trend in the USA is avoiding gluten. There is this belief that eating foods containing gluten may contribute to weight gain as well as a list of ailments. Some books claim that gluten-laden grains are the culprits that underlie chronic health problems. Every major change in our diet also carries a possibility of unforeseen risks. What are we to believe?
Gluten is a general name given to proteins found in certain grain products, including wheat and its derivatives. The hybridization that led to the production of modern bread wheat enabled the creation of a product with high amounts of the gluten complex. This made modern bread wheat the worst gluten offender. Gluten acts as a glue that holds food together. It affects the elasticity of dough made from these grains and gives a chewy texture to products made from the dough. Gluten is also used as an additive in foods that have low protein levels or no protein at all. Also it is used in vegetarian recipes that lack animal products to increase the firmness of the texture of the finished product.
Gliadin and glutelin are two proteins that make up gluten. They are attached to starch in the endosperm of grain. When gluten enters the digestive system, the proteins are broken down into peptide chains made of amino acids. These chains are the source of gluten sensitivity in some people and result in an array of symptoms. It may also lead to celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder of genetic origin and is also a chronic inflammatory condition.
Celiac disease typically results in injury to the mucosal lining of the small intestine in response to the consumption of gluten. It is more common in non-Hispanic Caucasians and rare in minority groups. The parts of the small intestine that are injured by gluten ingestion are the villi. These are the small finger-like projections that line the tract and promote nutrient absorption. When the villi are damaged, nutrients can’t be absorbed properly. Gluten triggers an abnormal immune reaction. The diagnosis of celiac disease is based on clinical symptoms. The symptoms differ between children and adults. The common symptoms in children are:
- stomach pain and bloating
- chronic diarrhea
- foul-smelling, pale stools
- weight loss
- irritable and behavior issues
- delayed growth and puberty
- short stature
- failure to thrive
- dental enamel defect in permanent teeth
The symptoms in adults are:
- unexplained iron-deficiency anemia
- bone or joint pain
- bone loss/ osteoporosis
- tingling numbness in hands and feet
- skipped menstrual cycles
- infertility or recurrent miscarriages
- canker sores in mouth
- itchy skin rash
- brain fog
- depression or anxiety
Blood tests can lead to an early diagnosis. At the present time, a gluten-free diet is the only treatment for celiac disease. Some people have trouble sticking to the diet. Alternative treatments are being explored. Three drugs are currently in development that might prove advantageous in treatment of celiac disease. They are:
- ALVOO3: is a potent digestive enzyme that is capable in breaking down gluten before the immune system reacts to it.
- AT-1001: is a drug designed to cause the body to close the junctions between the intestinal cells.
- Nexvax2: is a vaccine designed to induce a renewed immune system tolerant to gluten.
Individuals with non-celiac gluten sensitivity do not experience damage to the small intestine nor do they demonstrate antibodies to grain proteins as those with celiac disease. By ruling out celiac disease by blood tests, these individuals are considered sensitive to gluten. They may share some of the same symptoms as those with celiac disease, but their symptoms appear hours or days after gluten ingestion.
Maybe we need to go back to basics? For decades, American factories have produced additives to our food, steroids to our meat, gluten to our grains, and who knows what else. In a fast-paced world, we don’t take the time to care or think what we are eating. Obesity and health issues have risen. It’s time we grew our own food and made our own bread. We deserve to be healthy.