Food focus (Gluten)


For the gluten intolerant it can take some time to determine their range of vague to intense symptoms, from chronic tiredness to bloating, skin problems and sugar cravings may be due to a gluten intolerance (more often a whole grain). This can be a big discussion. Let’s look to break it down into smaller more bite size pieces.

Gluten… yes it’s almost a buzz word now with most people having some fuzzy idea of what it is so let’s take a journey back through history to look at where all of this came from.

The human species was thought to evolve into existence 2.5 million years ago, the normal diet consisting of nuts and seeds, tubers, plenty of vegetable material and the occasional meat.

With the advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago, we have moved more toward a settled lifestyle rather than a nomadic lifestyle. With this technological advances there was a shift from can we grow enough food to survive to how can we increase yield of plants to fed a growing population.

The question as to why there is such an increase in the prevalence of gluten related illness may be due to the evolution of grain production. Let’s take a closer look.

Grains in the past were different from the ones that we use today. Traditionally wheat was a perennial plant (grows and die back each season with the root system left intact). This wheat (landraces) would have a long stem and shorter head portion which means there was a smaller yield from each plant. The modern drive toward a higher yield has led to the production of an annual wheat that grows faster and has a shorter stem and larger head. This means that the wheat would have to be planted every year in order to harvest it. Hybrid forms of wheat with a higher gluten content tend to be more difficult to digest.

So what is gluten? Gluten is comprised of two molecules, gliadin and glutenin (the modern wheat that is grown for higher harvests has higher levels of these components compared to the earlier species). The gliadin component is said to be indigestible and will have the following four actions on your body (regardless of if you think you can digest it or not!), has a cell destroying aspect to any cell that it comes in contact with, activates an immune response, causes the release of zonulin (a molecule that opens the tight gap junctions between cells) and to top it all off there is an inflammatory cascade that is triggered.

Gluten structure. Gluten is composed of a mixture of two main proteins, gliadins and glutenins, both being toxic for celiac disease patients. Glutenin forms a meshwork of fibers in which globular gliadins are entrapped. On the left, the cartoon show both class of proteins and how they interact. On the right, a scan electron micrograph shows the structural interaction between gliadins and glutenins.

Gliadin motifs. Mapping of -gliadin motifs exerting cytotoxic activity (red), immunomodulatory activity (light green), zonulin release and gut-permeating activity (blue), and CXCR3-IL-8 release in CD patients (dark green).

It is interesting that we are for the most part are not born with Coeliac disease. There is most definitely a genetic component to the susceptibility of developing Coeliac disease, however there appears to be other factors at play. Some other aspects to consider are: C-section birthing, bottle feeding instead of breast, as well as the diversity of the microbiome (good and bad bugs in your tummy), all play a part in the progression and diagnosis.

How common is Coeliac disease?

With people everywhere having some idea of what it is it turns out that about 0.1% have a wheat based IgE based reaction (this is where the body is mounting an immune response to the wheat itself. 1.0% of people have Coeliac disease (an autoimmune response where the body will creates antibodies to gluten and then through a process will attack your own body tissue) and ~6.0% of people with gluten sensitivity (will get symptoms but isn’t as severe as an autoimmune reaction).

With the awareness increasing it means that there is a market for gluten free products. For people that are choosing to avoid the gluten in foods or are getting symptoms of food sensitivity avoiding the grains that normally contain gluten is a good start (think BROWS – Barley, Rye, Oats, Wheat and Spelt. There are also a few other like triticate and kamut).This will often see resolution in symptoms until they start to put on weight. Fat to be more precise!

This fat mainly goes around the waist area seemingly to then spread to everywhere else.

The cause of this fat? Are the incredibly refined, processed, de-natured different types of gluten free flours that are available. These nutritionally empty flours that go into the Gluten free products that are over filling the supermarket shelves these days.

When any food has been so processed it only feeds our bodies fat cells, not our muscle or tissue. It leaves us feeling full but nutritionally unsatisfied and so then we will go for sugary foods to try and supply energy to cells.

The thing is our cells require nutrient dense foods, in other words foods that have not had any processing, are full of colour and freshness, everything the gluten free flour isn't!

A great book that gives a personal account of gluten free eating is 'Good Gluten Free Food' by Hilda Cherry Hills in 1976 (that’s right before all the craze!).

Hilda's book was written because of her husband who lived in a wheelchair in his early life due to undiagnosed celiac disease. It was in the 1950's that the understanding of gluten intolerance finally was better understood, although the first documented references were in 1888 in St Bartholomew's Hospital in London.

Hilda herself was determined to get muscle back on her man who had been extremely underweight until his diagnosis. However very quickly she noticed that the alternative flours available then put on fat, and still left him tired. When she avoided using these flours and stuck to nutrient dense food he gained both muscle and energy.

Today I see many people who have a gluten or grain intolerance and when they exclude these from their diet these people start to feel well again. BUT if they start to consume the refined and highly processed gluten free products they become increasingly tired and put on fat. This is even more of a problem for women over 35 as they are less active in general.

Just because something is in the health isle of the supermarket or in the health food shop doesn't mean it’s healthy for long term.


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