Almost everywhere you turn to, you see plenty of ‘gluten free‘ signs: on food labels, on restaurant menu’s, on TV, in the magazines, it is like the new health trend. But people still do not really understand what it means and if they should pay attention to it or not. What is gluten sensitivity really all about? Should you eat gluten or should you not? What would be the benefits of a gluten free diet? Should you even consider going gluten free?
I will try to get the best answers for each of these questions and make you more aware of this term. Proceed with caution, if you continue to read this article, you might change your life.
What is Gluten?
What does pizza, pastry, pasta, bread and cakes have in common, besides being insanely addictive? Gluten! Gluten comes from Latin and it means ‘glue‘. This glue is a protein composite and it is mostly found in wheat and other related grains such as barley and rye. The reason why the wheat dough is so elastic is due to gluten, which helps it rise and keep its shape.
Why is Gluten Bad?
Most people believe gluten is bad when, in fact, gluten is not bad, but for some people it can create health problems because they have a hard time digesting it. They might have gastrointestinal issues like nausea, stomach pains, diarrhea, and even vomiting and progressive weight loss. People whose bodies produce an abnormal immune response when they break down gluten are either celiac or gluten sensitive.
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What is Gluten Sensitivity?
Gluten sensitive is also called non-celiac gluten sensitivity, because these people, after consuming gluten, may experience many celiac disease symptoms, such as diarrhea, bloating, fatigue, skin rashes and joint pain, but don’t appear to have damaged intestines – like celiac people would.
People that have celiac disease, when eating gluten, they experience a progressive deterioration of the villi within the small intestine. These villi are vital for our overall being because hey help absorb vitamins and nutrients to nourish our bodies and sustain energy for our everyday activities. When they begin to flatten, malabsorption can occur, which is causing anemia, irritability, weight loss, stomach pains, and plenty other gastrointestinal complications.
There is only around 1% of the population suffering from celiac disease, which is a permanent health issue and there is no known effective cure, but dietary changes – having a strict gluten free diet, you can slowly reverse damage in the small intestine.
Gluten sensitive, on the other hand, hits 6-10% of the world population and it is increasing day by day. Why? Read in my article about Gluten – 65 Easy Gluten Free Recipes To Experiment With.
If you want to know for sure if you are celiac or gluten sensitive you would need to be tested. They can do a blood test to measure amounts of certain antibodies that are commonly elevated when reactive to gluten, which is 95% accurate, or a biopsy of the small intestine or an endoscopy to see the state of the villi, which is very accurate. If you do not have celiac disease, then all you need to do is check the symptoms list and if you have any, you might be gluten sensitive. There is no real diagnostic for gluten sensitivity, but you can start by incorporating a 2-3 month gluten free diet and see if you feel better or not.
Gluten sensitivity can be a temporary health issue, due to an imbalance in the gut. If you manage to stay off gluten for a while and help heal your gut with probiotics and healing foods or supplements, you might see that gluten does not affect you as much. Changes do not happen overnight, you need to have patience and love your body and the whole journey of getting better.
What are the symptoms of gluten sensitivity?
I am sure many of you are under the impression that gluten sensitivity might only be connected with gut or digestive problems. In reality, things are not as black and white, actually, you might be surprised to see how many symptoms are connected with gluten sensitivity.
- Tiredness and Fatigue
Do you feel tired all the time? Do you feel like you need to sleep all day? Are you tired even after sleeping 12 h or more?
It is not normal to sleep more than 8h each night and feel tired. The ‘perfect‘ amount of time you should spend sleeping every night is around 7,5 h. Some people sleep less and have more energy than the ones who sleep more.
The reason? They are not gluten sensitive, or if they are they have a gluten free diet. Although it might seem weird and you might ask ‘How can gluten make me feel tired?‘ If your body is inflamed, your whole energy instead of going into restoring the normal bodily processes, gets consumed in dealing with gluten proteins.
- Autoimmune Diseases
At the Women’s Gluten-free Health Summit, Sarah Ballantyne PhD (or The Paleo Mom) stated:
“Every single autoimmune disease in which gluten as a contributor has been investigated has shown that gluten sensitivity is a contributor to that disease.”
The autoimmune diseases linked to gluten sensitivity are Celiac Disease, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Graves’ Disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Vitiligo, Sjogren’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis, Dermatitis Herpetiformis, and Type 1 Diabetes.
- Skin Problems
“If you have DH, you always have gluten intolerance.” (source)
- Hormonal Imbalance and Adrenal Fatigue
“a strong relationship has been established in medical literature between gluten sensitivity and the hormones progesterone and estrogen. Additionally, most of my patients with gluten sensitivity have an adrenal hormone imbalance, and this becomes exacerbated for patients during menopause…” (source)“…observed serious problems often begin to reveal themselves when women with gluten sensitivity reach peri-menopause. As their ovarian output of sex hormones drops, the resulting hormone imbalance is worsened by over consumption of gluten. The adrenal glands respond to the stress of unstable blood sugar and gastrointestinal tract inflammation caused by gluten by increasing cortisol. This causes increased body fat, fatigue and unstable moods.”
If you suspect you might suffer from hormonal imbalance, try a gluten-free diet for at least 7 days. See how you feel, any improvement is better than nothing. In order to cure your gluten sensitivity, you might have to be off it for a longer period of time, start with 7 days and if you start feeling better, continue to 21 days and then test the theory by eating gluten for 2 days and then see how you feel. If your symptoms return, try to be off gluten for a few months and then test again. In time, symptoms will diminish, it matters the degree of sensitivity. Take it slow and have patience.
- Headaches or migraines
I am sure all of you know how annoying a headache or a migraine can be. My personal cure for headaches – although I rarely have one, is a glass of water or a walk outside. Most of the time, you are dehydrated, so before popping a pill, try having a glass of water (not juice or coffee – but plain water). If this does not work, go for a 5-10 min walk, you probably just need a break and some fresh air. Now, it has been discovered that gluten might have a connection with this too. I am partially gluten-free, so this is why maybe I rarely get any headaches.
There was actually a study that measured migraine headaches in gluten sensitive individuals. What they noticed was that 14% of the people in the group reported headaches, from which 56% were non-celiac gluten sensitivity, 30% were celiacs and 23% were suffering from inflammatory bowel disease. (source)
- Brain Fog
Not being able to focus or think clearly can totally ruin your day, especially if you are an entrepreneur and your whole business depends on your judgment. This is why ‘brain fog‘ is not a joke, but a serious issue.
Although, no one can really estimate how gluten affects us getting the ‘brain fog‘, there is a study from 2002, in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, where they found that there may be significant cross reactivity of IgG antibodies to gluten and other different antibodies that could result in mental fogginess. These antibodies can also cause inflammation which can further exacerbate the condition.
- Joint and Muscle Pain
What you have to keep in mind is that gluten provokes inflammation in the body (if you are sensitive to it). Inflammation can occur in many places, including joints, muscles and everything that has to do with it. Whenever you are battling any kind of inflammation, think of gluten, it might be the answer to what is causing it.
“Joint pain and inflammation are (also) common symptoms of gluten sensitivity. And research does show links between the two diseases.”
More information about the link between gluten sensitivity, joint pain, and arthritis conditions can also be found in the publications of The Arthritis Foundation.
ADHD comes from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which affects adults, not only children. Dr. Ron Hoggan, Ed.D, co-author of the best selling book, “Cereal Killers” says:
“The concept of drugging a child to facilitate learning is upsetting to me, especially when there is cause to suspect that, on the gluten free diet, she may improve without intervention.” (source)
Another doctor that shares the same beliefs is Dr. Charles Parker who looks at the gut before starting to treat his patients. This happens because neurotransmitters are produced directly by what’s broken down in the digestive system. When gluten or other food proteins sneak into the body where they do not belong, due to leaky gut, this can facilitate a number of mental health issues.
- Depression and Anxiety
People sometimes make fun of the term ‘depression‘ by associating it with something superficial and not at all real. Unfortunately, what they do not know is how real this health problem can be. People who suffer from depression usually show feelings of hopelessness, lack of interest, low energy, appetite changes, sleep changes, anger, and more. These feelings are real and they can lead to serious problems.
When I first heard of the connection between depression and gluten, I was relieved. Why? Because I find it empowering to know that with some dietary changes you can cure something that is so dramatic for the patient, without having to drug him/her. I am a sucker for alternative therapies and will always choose diet and lifestyle changes, over medication. I am not going to argue, that some people might require medication to go through the process of healing, but research now confirms that Celiac disease and gluten intolerance are linked to depression, anxiety and mood disorders.
When it comes to anxiety, the people suffering from it may experience sensations of panic, loss of control, heart racing, chest pains, trouble breathing or feelings of passing out. Anxiety attacks can even mimic heart attacks so it’s important to be aware of the distinction. I personally suffered from panic attacks and I know how real the fear can be. Mine situation was mostly due to stress, so the moment I learned how to relax and use techniques like meditation or EFT and let go of the stressors, my panic attacks disappeared.
We are all different, the important aspect is that it is worth to try different remedies to cure a problem because you never know which one might work for you.
- Low Immunity
Are you always sick? Are the only one getting a cold?
If the answer is yes, your immune system is definitely not strong enough to protect you. IgA is a class of antibodies that are supposed to protect you when a cold knocks on your door. They are found in saliva, tears, blood and gastrointestinal tract. When their level is low, you get a cold or an infection in the body.
It has been shown that gluten sensitive or celiac people show signs of a depressed level of IgA antibodies. This deficiency is “the most common immunodeficiency in Caucasians” with 1 in 600 people. It is seen in many autoimmune diseases including the thyroid condition known as Graves’ disease, Lupus, Type 1 diabetes, Celiac disease and rheumatoid arthritis. (source)
- Unexplained Weight Loss or Weight Gain
I hear this a lot ‘She can eat everything she wants because she cannot gain weight‘. People think that this is something to brag about, when in fact it raises a lot of questions. It is not normal to eat anything and everything and not put on weight, it means malabsorption or gut permeability due to gluten intolerance or sensitivity. You need those nutrients because on the long term you might end up with a lot of unwanted health issues. On the other hand, gluten can trigger systemic inflammation in the body that mimics stubborn weight gain.
By removing gluten from your diet, you will slowly get back to your natural weight. What I have noticed is that most of my patients that gave up gluten lost weight – including me.
The reason why your digestive flora might be compromised and which will lead to sensitivity to gluten is due to antibiotics. Brenda’s Watson, CNC shares that a even a 7-day round of antibiotics can negatively alter gut bacteria for up to two years. Yes, it is this serious! Also, people with Candida (yeast infection) can also fluctuate with their weight. But more on this in another article, there is a lot to talk about when discussing candida.
- Dental Problems
Intriguing, isn’t it? Why do you think teeth have something in common with gluten?
Gluten sensitivity or celiac disease cause malabsorption, which leaves the body depleted of calcium. If you do not have enough calcium in your body, your bones, and your teeth will start to suffer. This is the link to gluten and dental problems. In order to check your calcium, Dr. Kim Millman MD, a featured speaker of the Women’s Gluten-Free Health Summit, suggests you do a DEXA scan, which measures bone density. She considers this to be more reliable than blood work.
How do you feel after knowing about all these symptoms? Does anything ring a bell?
What to eat on a gluten free diet?
When I started being gluten free and people found out about it, they would usually ask “And what do you eat?“, being completely amazed by the fact that almost all their meals contain gluten, which means I probably have nothing to eat.
At first, I had the same thoughts because everywhere I looked there was gluten, but after I started to educate myself, I noticed that being gluten free is not that hard. There are plenty of things you CAN eat, so do not despair. I actually created a 14 days meal plan, to help you start your gluten free journey.
FREE BONUS: 14 Day Gluten Free Meal Plan
Go for a test drive with my 14-days meal plan designed to keep you off gluten and offer you [more] delicious alternatives!
Also, I created these infographics with the things you can and cannot eat when going gluten free. Enjoy!
The best way to rapidly improve your health is not just answering “what is gluten sensitivity?” but trying to be gluten free and see if you notice anything. Every person is different and there is no recipe for success, only trial and error. You can do this!
1. Gluten Free 101 – Cheryl Harris, MPH, RD, LD
Did you like this article? Are you going to try being gluten free?Tell me in a comment below and let me know about your progress. Also, if you think this article might help any of your friends, please SHARE it – let’s spread the word and make as many people happy, healthy, wealthy and fulfilled!