Published: 10/19/2015 - Updated: 11/02/2018
Author: MSc. Miriam Reyes
People have been thinking about gluten-free diets for a long time, especially since there are so many artists and famous people that follow it. There’s also been a lot of talk about the pros and cons with this diet, so today I’m going to limit myself to simply analyzing this from the body’s perspective: how this protein is processed, and how it affects the body.
Gluten comes from a Latin word whose meaning is “glue” or “sticky substance”. As this names shows, this protein has an adhesive effect (present especially in wheat, but also in grains like spelt, barley and rye). These can be used to make bread, pastries, dough, cookies, crackers, etc.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a complex molecule formed by two groups of proteins. People can be allergic to either of the proteins present in these two groups. We have all heard about Celiac disease, which basically is a gluten intolerance. This causes a very strong inflammatory reaction in the intestines. Celiac’s diseases is an extreme case, or rather, it’s on the far side of the spectrum, but not everything is black and white. According to recent studies, the majority of people are simply sensitive to gluten to a greater or lesser extent (“Grain Brain”, by David Perlmutter, neurologist and professor at the University of Miami). It’s like an allergy (in fact, it is an allergy) like people that sneeze or itch when they’re exposed to cat hair. Some people even have to go to the hospital if they come in contact with cat hair.
If you’re sensitive to gluten, even just a little bit, your body will react against it as a defense mechanism. One of the primary defense mechanisms is inflammation. This occurs when antigens or antibodies come into contact with the allergen. Therefore, ingesting gluten will cause an inflammatory reaction (unless you are part of the small percentage of people that are not affected by it). It starts in the small intestine, but obviously, whenever you digest gluten and its proteins pass over to your blood, this creates a minor, yet constant, inflammatory reaction throughout the entire body.
We’ve talked about carbohydrates and sugar before in this blog, and currently we consume more of them than we should. This is what causes the body to constantly be under the threat of gluten, thereby creating a perpetual inflammatory state. This will test, and wear down, your defense system. It’s like giving yourself a small cut. Nothing happens, it heals, and there’s really no risk to it. But if you have 100 small cuts, no matter how small they are, you will start to suffer from a much more serious condition.
These may seem like fleeting theories, or hypothesis, but they aren’t. This is a medical reality, and it has been studies for several years. A lot of doctors and researchers that are well renowned, support this information. For example, in 2002, an article was published in the magazine “Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry”, which treated “Gluten sensitivity as a neurological disease”, and it proposed the following:
“For nearly two thousand years it has been difficult for humans to realize that a dietary protein that was commonly included in the human diet later on in evolutionary terms (about 10 thousand years ago) could produce diseases not only in the intestines, but also in the skin and nervous system. The multiple neurological manifestations of gluten intolerance may not even involve in the intestines, which is why neurologists need to familiarize themselves with the most common neurological symptoms in order to use their means to diagnose it”.
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These are fairly new reactions for mankind. Wheat has been harmless for health for more than a century. So what happened? Wheat has undergone several genetic modifications so as to produce a better product, with greater benefits, and of course we can’t forget about the increased global population over the last century. We needed these modifications in order to sustain everyone. I’m not going to get involved in a conversation about genetic modification and transgenic foods, we’ll leave that for another day. Original wheat contained 2 to 6% gluten, and what we consume today contains nearly 80%. You need to keep that number in mind.
It may seem like something fairly general when talking about inflammation, but you can give it a more concrete, and close-to-heart name, like intestinal disorders (constipation, diarrhea, malabsorption of nutrients, asthma, bronchitis, depression, anxiety, stress, autism, Parkinson’s disease, autoimmune disorders, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, migraines, or Alzheimer’s). Just in case someone asks why there’s been such an increase in the last century. All of these diseases are present because of inflammation. It is true that not all of these diseases were caused by gluten, but it does noticeably worsen the symptoms. It’s like adding wood to the fire, and not letting the fire burn out.
How to eat a gluten-free diet
So how can you do this? Basically, a gluten-free diet, although I know it’s hard to give up pastries, bread, crackers, grain, and all those types of things, but there are very intense benefits to doing so. And not doing so carries so many risks. Once you let go of gluten in your diet, you can use several different natural remedies to help reduce your inflammation, like chamomile infusions or cold water hydrotherapy. Although you can also use other plants (I’ve used chamomile because it’s easy to get in any supermarket), or other therapies (I talked about hydrotherapy because everyone can take a bath at home). You can also use geotherapy with col clay poultices, or some sort of similar therapy.
- Hadjivassiliou, M., Grünewald, R. A., & Davies-Jones, G. A. B. (2002). Gluten sensitivity as a neurological illness. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery &Amp; Psychiatry, 72(5), 560 LP-563. Retrieved from
- Biesiekierski, J. R. (2017). What is gluten? Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 32 Suppl 1, 78–81.
- Green, P. H. R., Lebwohl, B., & Greywoode, R. (2015). Celiac disease. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 135(5), 1099–106; quiz 1107.
- Kupper, C. (2005). Dietary guidelines and implementation for celiac disease. Gastroenterology, 128(4 Suppl 1), S121-7.
Shannahan, S., & Leffler, D. A. (2017). Diagnosis and Updates in Celiac Disease. Gastrointestinal Endoscopy Clinics of North America, 27(1), 79–92.
Kelly, C. P., Bai, J. C., Liu, E., & Leffler, D. A. (2015). Advances in diagnosis and management of celiac disease. Gastroenterology, 148(6), 1175–1186.
- Aziz, I., Branchi, F., & Sanders, D. S. (2015). The rise and fall of gluten! The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 74(3), 221–226.
Revised by: Dra. Loredana Lunadei on 11/02/2018
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