At our naturopathic clinic in Toronto, in recent years especially, our naturopathic doctors are being asked about gluten more regularly. "Is it good for me?" "Is it bad for me?" The infamous protein explained. Gluten-free is definitely fashionable- but is it functional? Many people are opting to eliminate gluten from their diets- often with no diagnosis of celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. Unfortunately, gluten-free is not synonymous with healthy. Many gluten-free products are high in sugar, preservatives and unlike wheat flour, they are not fortified with vitamins and minerals. Nonetheless, many people feel better when they take gluten out of their diet. What is gluten? Gluten is substance found in the endosperm of wheat, rye and barley grains. It is comprised of the proteins Gliadin and Glutenin. Grains, and how we consume them, differs from that of our ancestral history. Today grains make up a major part of our diet- remember the food group pyramid you learned in school- where the foundation was grains? Well, that food pyramid is not something we share in common with our early human ancestors who ate almost no grains at all. The domestication of wheat happened about 10,000 years ago. In more recent history, composition of wheat has changed due to hybridization of strains which has increased wheat's gluten content dramatically.
What is it about gluten containing grains that irritates our gut? Gluten can increase zonulin, a protein in the gastrointestinal tract that can cause leaky gut. Leaky gut, or intestinal permeability, occurs when the tight junctions (the connection) between intestinal cells open up, allowing larger molecules that shouldn't cross the intestinal barrier, to go into the blood stream causing inflammation. It may not be the gluten alone, but the herbicides used in conventional farming are likely contributing to intestinal imbalances. Glyphosate is a commonly used herbicide used in grain farming. If a substance can kills weeds and bugs- think about what it could do to the microflora in our gut (our healthy bacteria). Glyphosate is known to kill beneficial bacteria and decrease the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals. We do not definitively know the reason for the rising prevalence of gluten sensitivity. It may be that a combination of increased wheat consumption, increased gluten content of wheat, and rising glyphosate residues in conventional grain products are contributing to dysbiosis, intestinal inflammation, and ultimately gluten intolerance. What should you do? Recommendations, in terms of complete gluten elimination, need to be made on an individual basis via comprehensive assessment by a qualified healthcare provider. However, here are some recommendations that will benefit most individuals: [list] [*]Reduce consumption of grains so that your diet favours protein and vegetables. [*]Eat organic and ancient varieties of wheat (einkorn or emmer) which would reduce pesticide residues and gluten content. [/list] See a naturopathic doctor to assess if you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity in order to have a comprehensive plan that allows for optimal nutrition and overall health. If you're curious to learn more about this subject or would like to consult with one of our NDs feel free to book a visit or contact us. Yours in Health, Dr. Marnie Luck, N.D