What is Gluten?
Simply put, gluten is the name for the proteins found in grains that lend elasticity and shape, binding foods such as bread together.
Did you hear people talking about gluten 20 years ago? I certainly didn’t.
In fact not even 10 years ago!
I was aware at that time that there was an autoimmune condition called coeliac disease, brought on by the body’s allergens to gluten, but I knew it was mainly hereditary and associated with specific genes.
So 20 years ago, unless you were diagnosed with Coeliac, you would not hear about gluten.
Today is entirely a different matter. Most of us will know at least one person who has troubles with this grain. In fact you don’t need to be Coeliac to have a problem digesting gluten!
Just think for a minute of the amount of wheat and wheat products today available, especially the processed types. Perhaps the over glutenised society we have become is in part the reason for the huge gluten sensitivity issue today.
The methods of mass production have abandoned the healthy and essential processes to work grains like wheat that make them more digestible and nutritious, like soaking and sprouting, in favour of more convenient and faster techniques.
Also the manipulation of the crop has likely contributed to the problem.
Best selling author and health and wellness advocate, Suzanne Somers explains “Today’s gluten is not the gluten of yesterday. There used to be 80 different strains of wheat. Today those 80 strains have been “engineered” to five strains, and their gluten content is now off the charts.” You can find more info in her book Tox-Sick: From Toxic to Not Sick
It should come to no surprise then, why such a large population today is indeed sensitive to gluten with symptoms varying from digestive discomforts, like bloating, to more serious neurological or immune responses. The gastrointestinal tract is rich with neurological, hormonal and immune system components, so damage to the GI tract caused by gluten reactions can have an effect throughout the body.
It seems like our messing with nature has come with consequences and perhaps that’s why so many of us do well on a gluten-free diet.
There is a gene, the HLA gene, that some of us carry (and is particular, but not exclusive to, British, Irish, Spanish, French, German) that is associated with gluten sensitivity. Interestingly, carriers of this gene seem to be particularly susceptible to chemicals and toxicity of any kind.
Molecular mimicry and Autoimmune conditions
Grains that contain gluten (and not only) are not particularly nutrient friendly to our GI tract. They contain substances known as anti nutrients, that is because they can inhibit nutrient absorption, damage our intestinal lining, and potentially trigger an autoimmune response.
How does this happen?
Every time our body is exposed to a suspicious substance, or an invader, our immune system memorizes its structure, in particular its protein sequence, so that if exposed to it again in the future, it can recognize it and defend ourselves from it.
Unfortunately, the immune system’s “recognition device” can make mistakes and it can be tricked into attacking look-a-like molecules, that are actually our body’s tissue, causing autoimmune disease.
Gluten is a rather large protein similar in structure to some tissues in our body, particularly the thyroid.
Casein has also been found to have a similar molecular structure to gluten.
Gluten directly impacts the intestinal lining through zonulin production.
Zonulin is a protein that directly causes leaky gut. With leaky gut we are leaving the doors open for these large particles to go into our blood stream where they will be detected and destroyed. Remember, gluten and the thyroid gland look similar in structure, so some of those immune cells can end up attacking the thyroid by mistake.