From the outside looking in, gluten appears to be a new fad for dieters of all genres. It appears to be some new terminology concocted to sell a few more items off the shelf. It lacks the appeal that could generate and gather a general interest as to why things have to be labeled gluten-free. It has managed for way too long to skate by, uncaressed by our minds and smothered daily by our gastrointestinal tract. What is it… What is Celiac Disease?
My imagination deduced gluten to just another allergy that caused some people to have upset stomachs, and by ‘some’, I imagined only a handful, thus labeling them complainers if anything. Gluten was my pollen or my cat dander that caused an occasional sneeze or wheeze in the past—it was just something silly that could easily be avoided. I know I am not the only one who has thought this way and I know many people are still unaware as to the culprit behind the mask. As I mentioned, for many it has just become another trendy food item for some earth-loving “hippies” to get caught up in, and for others, it is an autoimmune disease that not only wreaks havoc on their digestive system, but the entirety of their bodies and their health in general.
I came to a better understanding about what gluten actually is from attending nursing school, doing some additional reading on the side, and by having a keen interest that was sparked by my “faith.” It was just another Sunday with some ordinary pew-sitting and it was just another blue and white plain type bulletin that my dad was reading, until this average bulletin became the confirming agent of what the priest had just said. “We will now be serving gluten-free hosts (wafers) and let us know if you would like this option.” Why would they be catering to people who had this specific allergy?
Eventually I did find out and eventually I did become gluten-free, as I am today. No, I do not have celiac disease (not actually ever confirmed negative or positive) and nor do I directly link any of my allergy “symptoms” to a severe gluten allergy. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that is triggered by a substance identified as gluten. Gluten is a protein that cannot be digested by anyone, but for some, it causes undesirable and life-threatening problems.
WHAT IS CELIAC DISEASE
Our intestines have these structures called villi which are elongated projections that are snuggled together in order to increase the surface area in our digestive system while promoting nutrient absorption. When inflamed by gluten, these projections become flattened and their ability to absorb the nutrients from the food being digested becomes greatly diminished. Over time, with compacting inflammations, celiac disease becomes more distinct to both the host and eventually the individual diagnosing you.
So why did I give up all gluten-containing products (grains etc…)? Did I mention that this protein cannot be digested by anyone? Its severe effects may only fall upon what we may consider a few, but in reality, I truly believe gluten affects all of us on some level. You know how some people smoke cigarettes and only a handful actually get lung cancer? That is how it is with gluten. In a side note, one which I do not want you to act on—smoking cigarettes has been shown to provide some protection against celiac disease along with ulcerative colitis—kind of like a bunch of bad guys playing king of the hill!
I choose to refrain from ever eating gluten again because it is something that has not done this world well. It may seem small and overtly defenseless, but its potential to grow into a skyscraper of problems has led me to believe otherwise. It is not a trendy food, it is not a fear-induced food regiment, it is my educated decision based on what is available to all of us: research and a grain-eating population dying way too early.
EVIDENCE & WHO TO BLAME
There was a Swedish epidemic in which a noteworthy number of infants developed celiac disease—a tragedy that has been linked to an early and overly-eager introduction of gluten to some obviously very young infants. As humans, we are born into this world semi-immunocompromised in that we rely on our mother’s breast milk to sustain our health and provide a sheltering immunity. As was in the case of these younglings, the earlier the introduction of some substances, gluten in this case, the greater the risk. This is why certain substances are regarded as teratogens (embryo harming agents) during pregnancy. Have we identified all teratogens? Have birth defects ceased to exist? Maybe gluten…
How have we fixed this problem? We haven’t. Instead, we delay the introduction of these gluten-containing products until our bodies are deemed “ready” to defend themselves adequately. Adequately is a word so perfect that it encompasses both the insanity of this illogical method as well as the problem with the current societal norms. Poisons or bodily-harming agents should never be deemed okay for us to consume or interact with at any level or any age. For some reason though, it has become adequate to feed infants gluten at four to six months, although these substances are to be actively avoided at all costs any earlier, while receiving only the sideways wag of an index finger, accompanied by a short-term grimace and an equally lengthy tilted-head shake, for not abiding. Early introduction of both gluten and milk are avoided, while these two substances are later promoted (!), where is the logic?
Another possible cause mentioned is the hygiene hypothesis. We are too clean, that is simply what this hypothesis proposes. We clean this, we clean that, and we even clean our bodies with synthetic drugs and vaccinations in order to prevent diseases, illnesses, and all sorts of possible and highly improbable catastrophes. I feel we do indeed do too much cleaning, internally and externally, but I do not believe this is the only contributing factor.
The hygiene hypothesis drew attention to the fact that farm-raised children, who were exposed to a more natural environment, developed less allergies. I feel that with a healthily sustained bodily environment, our natural defense mechanisms can kick in and more than adequately defend us against many of the external and soon to be internal dangers. Being scrub-happy clean and living outside our natural environment are decisions we decide and I feel we need to relinquish some of the power back to our bodies and the land upon which we walk.
Malabsorption due to inflamed and damaged villi (the elongated protrusions) wreaks total havoc on the bodies of those with celiac disease. When we do not get the nutrients we need, we usually become symptomatically sick. If this continues, the affected areas begin to fail and can literally die if action is not taken. As this progresses and we neglect to take action, and action typically does not mean popping a pill to become symptomatically better, we too eventually die. In a nutshell, that is the key to life. Avoiding these processes or slowing them back down to their natural pace will allow us to live longer.
Unfortunately, many (actually almost everyone) consume these poisons daily due to a lack of knowledge, or even worse, a lack of desire. Malabsorption leads to neurological disorders, cancer promotion from a weakened immune system, osteoporosis from a lack of calcium, and a soon to be continued list. Cancer is promoted because our immune system becomes so worn down from its seemingly endless defense against our daily consumption of gluten. Our bones become brittle and we develop a Dowagers hump because they become so worn down due to a lack of calcium. Oddly enough, these two areas seem to peak at a certain age: when we die.
This book was not absolutely thrilling (as many medical focused books are not), but one thing he mentioned put my eyes into graves disease mode. Apparently what we eat is very closely linked with how we feel because serotonin has its largest stockpile in our intestines! Depression is one of those things that can remain indistinguishable as to whether it was caused by something or whether it was the causative agent itself. Being diagnosed with celiac disease sets the perfect stage for this complicated storm.
Was the depression caused by the many effects of celiac disease (malabsorption, pain, & etc..) or was it caused by the diagnosis backed by the gold-standard definitive test? Being diagnosed means changing your lifestyle and becoming gluten-free in order to heal and replenish your digestive system. A gluten-free lifestyle means no more pizzas with your friends and maybe even no more friends. Yes, this diagnosis often leads many askew and opting to literally hide themselves due to an inability to disconnect themselves from food in a timely fashion. They are not to blame, at least not yet.
I do point the finger after a certain amount of time though. It is always necessary to provide time for grief and education, but it is even more necessary to not sit back and let something so silly (food) decide your life. These foods completely inflame the intestines of someone with celiac disease and leave them with some undesirable symptoms that spread throughout their bodies.
A gluten-free diet has shown so much promise in the disorders already mentioned, a forecast shared also by the ones coming up shortly, so why would you (everyone, not just those with celiac disease) cheat yourself out of a healthier life? Most of us are fortunate enough to not have to deal with the daily symptoms of celiac disease, but we can still learn to disconnect ourselves from the addictive grasp of food and live longer. If you choose not to, you become the only one to blame, just like the two-pack a day smoker or even the one cigarette a year smoker who gets lung cancer. It adds up, and it will cumulatively overwhelm you.
Even dermatitis has been linked to gluten exposure and I can personally attest to this one. Every year for the last seven or so, I had been getting these terrible rashes with small blisters upon my trunk whenever I went to the beach (my mom also has sensitive skin). It was extremely itchy and utterly unpleasant. This year though, being gluten-free now, I had no reactions whatsoever. Maybe it’s linked, maybe I got lucky, or maybe everything is connected in life. You decide.
GLUTEN & AUTOIMMUNE DISEASES
Often traveling in packs, autoimmune diseases have no known causes and are mostly purported to be caused by genetics or environmental factors, which is highly controllable factor. In actuality, they are caused by us. Sure we are an extremely complex system and there are going to be a few kinks every now and then, but we are the deciders of how our genetics become altered by our environmental interactions. We tamper too often and such recklessness has its consequences.
Celiac disease stands alone as the only autoimmune disease with an identified trigger (gluten), yet it is amidst an ever growing crowd to which it has been found to be both tightly and uniquely linked. Gluten may not be the identified trigger for these other diseases, but a gluten-free diet has been shown to reduce the antibodies prone to these other diseases as well as many of the gastrointestinal symptoms. Celiac disease is known to be a silent killer and most people get by with the symptoms and accept them as being a normal part of their lives, until their normal lives are flipped with a diagnosis that arrived a little too late. Getting diagnosed a little too late can mean irreversible damage, damage that does indeed shorten your lifespan.
Both celiac disease and diabetes (Type 1) share the same genetic markers and a list of GI symptoms. Celiac disease or gluten-sensitivity in general has also been shown to:
- Affect the fertility of males and females (Gluten-Free = less spontaneous abortions, increased sex drive and pleasure, and lack of failure to thrive).
- Affect the absorption of medications such as thyroid replacement hormone.
- Induce alopecia and improve or even reverse it on a gluten-free diet.
- Reduce GI issues (50% have them) in those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Placed on Casein-free [milk protein] and Gluten-free diets).
- Cause the gluten antibodies to appear in all those with ADHD although none in the study were diagnosed with celiac disease.
- Have some affect on those with schizophrenia.
- Cause enamel defects and malformations that have become very common.
- And more links in the future if we continue down this road…
How many people do you know who are lactose intolerant? Quite a few I bet. My younger brother has never been tested for a genetic link to this intolerance, he just pops a little white tablet in order to enjoy his dairy foods each day. It has been shown, for those who are not genetically lactose intolerant, that a gluten-free diet can reverse this issue and allow one to consume dairy. Sounds great, but maybe dairy upsets your stomach for a reason—kind of reminds me of gluten.
A gluten-free diet is sometimes not all it is cracked up to be—sometimes people do not find the relief they seek (too damaged or maybe cheating on their diet) and sometimes people unfortunately find depression. It is especially hard for those newcomers, and anyone in general, who have to sort through the supermarket terminology that tells us something is gluten-free or that it may have been processed using machines shared with gluten-containing products. The current international standard is ≤20mg/kg for something to be labeled as gluten-free. As of yet, I do not believe the USA has set its standards.
Oats are an additional contributor to this fiery controversy and now they have been deemed adequate to be consumed by those with a gluten-sensitivity (likely all of us). Most fear that oats may be cross contaminated while they are being processed, but oats also have gluten-like protein chain that has been shown to cause symptoms in some celiac disease sufferers, although not many.
With the added trouble of reading food labels, avoiding most supplements (packed with gluten and surprises), finding medications that do not contain gluten, and discerning this information almost hourly each day, those with celiac disease are left with a diet that can itself wreak havoc on their bodies.
It was the gluten before and now it is the decreased fiber (no grains), additional fats (flavor and holding together properties in foods), and the intestinal tract’s recently resurrected ability to better absorb this junk. Better fat absorption can lead to obesity and another long list of problems, but this can all be avoided, just like gluten.
Choose to eat truly nutritious foods and avoid the rest. Gluten is obviously a very small factor that can produce so much damage, but these factors are laced within many of the foods available at the grocery store. You now know how to fix the gluten problem, will you fix the rest?
A few myths were mentioned within this book and two of them left enough of an imprint to be mentioned here. First, you do not outgrow celiac disease. This is your disease, it is part of your identity, and you can not turn your back on it. You do not have to fear it, but you most certainly have to respect it. Avoid cheating and avoid believing you have been cured to the extent where you can have occasional gluten binges. Do not become the lung transplant patient who deems himself or herself ready to smoke again. I truly feel that none of us can be deemed ready to digest gluten, especially those who are extremely sensitive.
The second myth dealt with how much gluten someone with Celiac disease could handle. Apparently it is adequate to consume ≤20mg/kg in food products or even 30mg/day in some places. If you take your health seriously, you know there is no adequate dosage when it comes to poison. Be intelligent and make decisions based upon all of the information available. The media shadowed gluten into the just another allergy corner as an allergy that only affects a few, I had to be the one to turn the lights on in order for me to see through the mess and you can do the same.
What are your feelings on gluten?
Is it just another allergy?
Do you have Celiac Disease or gluten sensitivity (share)?
What led you to become gluten-free?