With our discussion of reducing the grains in our eating style, there is one negative feature in wheat, besides sugar, that must be addressed: gluten. In previous blogs, it has been mentioned that the amount of gluten in wheat has increased forty-fold in the past 50 years. It has also been highlighted that the average American eats 133 pounds of wheat each year, and that as many as 40% of Americans have gluten allergies or gluten sensitivities, making them unable to properly digest gluten. One study reported that babies born to gluten-allergic / gluten- sensitive mothers (when those mothers continued to eat gluten during pregnancy) showed an increased risk of psychiatric illnesses in the babies. So, it is crucial to know if we are gluten allergic or gluten sensitive; and it is crucial to eliminate gluten from our eating style.
Gluten (in Latin it means glue) is a protein composite that holds flour together. Can you see why companies have increased its concentration in bread and pasta? As they transport those foods further distances, and as they want those foods to have longer shelf-lives (so they can sell for longer periods in the market), they want that adhesive component to keep the product looking better – and for a longer period. But the public is paying a price with impaired health. There is another problem. Gluten is found in other products, not just grains, including soups, soy products, condiments, mascara, hand cream, and hair conditioner. People need to know more than their gluten sensitivities; people need to know the full spectrum of products that contain hidden gluten.
There is another property of gluten that is striking. It also explains why food companies have greatly increased gluten’s concentration in wheat. When digested successfully, gluten breaks down into a polypeptide that easily crosses the blood-brain barrier. Do you know where this polypeptide attaches? It binds to the brain’s morphine receptors – the same receptors that bind heroin, opiate painkillers, and numerous other narcotics. The result? Gluten – if it reaches its target – creates a pleasurable feeling, not that dissimilar to the feeling achieved by an opiate addict. There is, after all, a physiologic (and neurologic) reason to explains why a person might want to gorge on doughnuts. However, there is an irony. The initial positive feeling in the brain tends to mask the negative gluten consequences that occur well before (and after) that polypeptide reaches the brain.
So, what happens when you ingest gluten, before it gets to the brain? As you can imagine, gluten is not easy to digest, even if you are not allergic or sensitive. It can interfere with the breakdown of the food, causing poor absorption of the nutrients. It can also remain undigested, sliding into your small intestines. With its resistance to digestive enzymes, it can damage the lining of the intestines, helping cause a leaky gut, thereby insuring its own leakage into our blood stream. How does our body react? Our body reacts by turning on certain cells, by producing certain chemicals to attack the gluten. You can guess the end result. Those chemicals cause inflammation throughout the body; and the inflammation, especially when chronic (when the person eats gluten day after day), produces a spectrum of diseases – from general medical conditions to cognitive decline and dementia.
With a gluten allergy or sensitivity, the individual often becomes aware of this condition through intestinal discomfort or reactions on their skin. But there are a number of people who do not fit that typical pattern. They do not feel the intestinal discomfort or bloating or pain; and they do not see blemishes on their skin. But their body is still experiencing chronic inflammation. Consequently, their risk for certain illnesses, including cognitive decline and dementia, is increasing without any awareness. So, what is my recommendation for these people? If you cannot get yourself tested for gluten allergy or sensitivity, assume that gluten is not beneficial for your health. Assume that it will increase your risk of disease. Assume that it may increase your risk for dementia. Therefore, try your best to eliminate it from your diet. If you are going to eat bread or purchase pasta, buy products that are truly gluten free. That is the good news. The amount of gluten free products has exploded. It is a 6 billion dollar a year business, and the business is booming, making it easier to buy good, non-gluten foods.
So, what are the possible advantages of giving up gluten? For people with life-long migraines, there is a chance of a dramatic reduction in headaches. For people with skin problems, there is a chance for clearer skin. For people with depression, there is a chance for lifting mood. For people with cognitive issues, there is a chance for a shaper thinking. All of those conditions are reversible – and they represent only a small portion of the potential illnesses / conditions that could be improved. My suggestion? Change your eating style for a full calendar month, trying to avoid gluten. Evaluate how you feel, how you look, and how you think. If there is any improvement, stay with the gluten restriction. More and more studies are showing the hidden health benefits of steering clear of gluten, even if you are not allergic or sensitive to gluten.
Lastly, let me close by connecting the dots. By decreasing your intake of wheat products, we are decreasing our intake of sugar and gluten, plus decreasing our intake of environmental toxins. Individually, these components ravage our bodies. But together? Combining these three components create significant inflammation. Our ancestor’s daily diet consisted of 5% carbohydrates; our eating style currently consists of around 60% carbohydrates; and the carbohydrates of our ancestors were a lot healthier than our carbohydrates. They did not have to worry about all the additional sugar. They did not have to worry about the enormous increase of gluten. They did not have to worry about the contaminants. We might not be eaten by a wild tiger, but we are being killed by our excessive carbohydrates.
What can we do? Read part III.