Wheat-free. Dairy-free. Egg-free. Peanut-free. Soy-free. According to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), an estimated 90% of allergic reactions are a result of only eight foods. If you are someone who suffers from a food allergy or food sensitivity, you know that this is a serious affliction that takes a lot of time, attention, and energy to control. For some with serious food allergies, it can even be a life-threatening condition.
One food sensitivity that does not currently require labeling is gluten intolerance. While not classified as a food allergy, gluten can cause serious reactions and health problems in people who have celiac disease, a chronic digestive disorder.
About 15% of the US population is affected by gluten intolerance, although the actual number may be higher as many people are undiagnosed. It is no surprise that "gluten-free" is suddenly popping up on foods, in restaurants, and in conversations everywhere.
What is gluten? Gluten is a protein that is found in wheat and some other grains, such as barley, bulgur, rye, spelt, oats, kamut, semolina, pumpernickel, and farro. Gluten adds elasticity to doughs and is responsible for the desirable texture of pastas, breads, and pizzas.
In gluten intolerant people, consuming gluten can trigger an immune response. White blood cells go to work fighting and destroying the food antigen, and inflammation can result. Digestive issues and wide-ranging systemic inflammatory responses can be the result of gluten intolerance.
Celiac disease, an autoimmune disease in which the intestinal system is hypersensitive to gluten, used to be considered a rare childhood disorder. "Celiac disease is now estimated to be four times more common than it was 50 years ago," says Michelle Nacouzi, MD, a primary care physician at Duke Primary Care Brier Creek. "And more advanced diagnostic tests may be the reason it seems to be on the rise."
William Davis, MD, is the author of the book Wheat Belly. A cardiologist who advocates a wheat-free, gluten-free diet, Davis suggests that modern wheat production practices are to blame for our increasing gluten intolerance and other health problems. "First of all, it ain't wheat. It's the product of 40 years of genetic research aimed at increasing yield-per-acre. The result is a genetically-unique plant that stands 2 feet tall, not the 4 1/2-foot tall 'amber waves of grain' we all remember. The genetic difference modern wheat has drifted exceeds the difference between chimpanzees and humans." In other words, the wheat we are eating today is not even close to the same species of wheat we ate generations ago. "Gluten is only one of the reasons to fear wheat, since it triggers a host of immune diseases like celiac, rheumatoid arthritis, and gluten encephalopathy (dementia from wheat)," says Davis.
Gluten intolerance, gluten sensitivity, wheat allergy - no matter what you label it, stearing clear from gluten and wheat containing foods is the best remedy. A medical professional can help you with a diagnoses, but symptoms can range from mild to severe.
Symptoms that could be related to gluten intolerance are:
- Abdominal pain
- Itching or swelling
- Irritability or depression
- Joint pain
- Distention and bloating of the stomach
- Chronic diarrhea and/ or constipation
- Fatty stools
- Unexplained weight loss
Food allergies and food sensitivites are serious matters that can effect far more than just someone's digestive system. Speak to a health care professional if you think you may be afflicted with a food sensitivity, and be sure to read labels carefully when selecting food products.
For more information about supporting optimal digestive health, see our Digestive Issues blog post!
Melissa Zimmerman, Healthy Goods