Going gluten-free has become a fad in the diet world. While those with Celiac Disease or other autoimmune or inflammatory conditions can benefit from removing gluten from their diet, not everyone has a sensitivity to gluten.
Gluten is just one of many proteins that make up wheat. While people most certainly can have a genetic predisposition to gluten sensitivity, much of the time, allergies or sensitivities are caused by leaky gut and inflammation. In other words, it’s the result of other things going on in the body.
Some people can have very noticeable symptoms and reactions to gluten, including digestive symptoms, headaches, body aches, flu-like symptoms, fatigue, rashes and so on, while others can simply have underlying inflammation and never know they are reacting to it.
All that being said, there are specific genes that tell us more about our personal sensitivity to gluten – and we’ll talk about that in just a bit.
Outside of gluten, there are a few other things to note about wheat – and why people might be sensitive:
- Gliadin, a component of the gluten protein, is broken down in the intestines into smaller proteins that have the ability to cross both the intestinal barrier (meaning it goes into our bloodstream) and the blood-brain barrier (meaning it can cross into our brains) to bind to morphine receptors. This may be part of the reason wheat-filled products increase appetite and cause addiction-like behavior in some people. Have you ever started eating pasta or cake or any other gluten-y treat and felt like you couldn’t stop eating it? You just want one more bite? That’s because wheat has an opiate-like effect on our brains – we are (or can be) addicted to it!
- Amylopectin A is a complex carbohydrate unique to wheat that is super digestible. Rice, beans and other starchy foods have amylopectin B and C and are less digestible (this is often why it’s recommended to soak and sprout your beans and grains before eating). Considering that amylopectin A is so highly digestible explains why eating two slices of whole wheat bread raises our blood sugar higher than table sugar, a bowl of brown rice, or even a Snickers bar. That whole wheat toast you’re eating in the morning is packing a major punch of increased blood sugar! Repeated high blood sugar can lead to belly fat, general weight gain, and diabetes, along with cataracts, arthritis and heart disease.
- Lectins (glycoproteins) in wheat bypass the protective proteins in our small intestines and enter directly into our bloodstream. When these foreign bodies enter the bloodstream, it triggers autoimmune responses and chronic inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can lead to arthritis, cancer, heart disease, digestive issues, food allergies, anxiety, depression, ADD/ADHD, Alzheimer’s, migraines, endometriosis, obesity, diabetes, asthma, seasonal allergies, acne, eczema, and psoriasis. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it should give you a good idea of how devastating inflammation is for your body. Understanding what might be causing inflammation is really important so that it can be prevented. If you have an autoimmune disease, there’s a good chance that removing wheat from your diet will help alleviate or eliminate symptoms.
- Beyond gluten, there are more than 1000 other proteins in wheat that have the potential to cause odd, or even dangerous, reactions in our bodies.
Outside of what’s in wheat, we need to consider what gets put on wheat. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup and the most widely used herbicide in the world. Most glyphosate is sprayed on “Roundup-ready” corn and soybeans genetically engineered to withstand the herbicide. Increasingly, glyphosate is also sprayed just before harvest on wheat, barley, oats and beans that are not genetically engineered. Glyphosate kills the crop, drying it out so it can be harvested sooner than if the plant were allowed to die naturally.
According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, in 2017 approximately 12.4 million pounds of glyphosate were applied to various varieties of wheat grown in the U.S. Of those varieties, more than 58 percent of the acreage of durum wheat, commonly used to make pasta, was sprayed with glyphosate.
Understanding the scope of glyphosate contamination in our food supply is critical to protecting public health, as more scientific evidence continues to link glyphosate with cancer, specifically non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In the latest research on glyphosate and cancer risk, researchers analyzed several studies on exposure to glyphosate-based herbicides and cancer in agricultural workers and identified a 41 percent increase in cancer risk for the highest exposed group. As you can imagine, if it’s a powerful enough chemical to cause cancer, it is absolutely causing other issues and damage in the body. People could potentially be experiencing sensitivity to glyphosate or other chemicals when they are eating wheat products. It’s important that if you’re going to eat products that contain wheat that you choose non-GMO and organic. This will ensure that you’re eating foods free of these toxic chemicals.
Gluten isn’t necessarily the enemy, and as you can see from the list above, it’s certainly not the only enemy when it comes to eating foods made from, or containing, wheat.
There are a lot of issues that eating gluten can contribute to, but not everyone is sensitive to gluten and not everyone needs to avoid it. It’s important to pay attention to how your body feels when you eat gluten-filled foods.
Doing an elimination diet where you eliminate gluten for 3-4 weeks, and then slowly reintroduce it, can be a good litmus test for how your body reacts to gluten.
In general, it’s important to remember that you want to be avoiding/limit processed foods, so avoiding gluten often goes hand-in-hand with many food plans and protocols.
An even better way to know if you’re sensitive to gluten – or could have the potential to be – is to look to your DNA for answers. There are specific genes that have been shown to influence how your body reacts to gluten. In that same group of genes, you can also see if you have a propensity towards Celiac Disease and/or issues with other grains as well. With my program, DNA Made Simple, you can unlock your genetic potential to optimize your health.
When approaching your health, it’s important to consider all of the factors: underlying inflammation or infection, diet, lifestyle habits, gut health, hormone imbalances, and the list goes on.
With all of that, your genetics – your personal DNA code – holds many of the keys to optimizing your health, and that includes understanding which foods are good for your body and those you might do well to avoid. While you may not feel physical symptoms when you include gluten (or wheat) in your diet, on a genetic level, you might be doing yourself a disservice by feeding your body foods it is sensitive to.
By understanding your genetics, you are able to remove so much of the guesswork when it comes to the best protocols for your health and wellness goals.