You’ve probably heard your coworkers, family members and friends at school talking about how they’re going to be switching to a gluten-free diet. But what’s really going on here? With gluten-free diets now being readily available in restaurant menus and grocery stores, are people giving up gluten because it’s the latest health trend, or is it something deeper?
Gluten, gluten, gluten is what we hear practically on an everyday basis, but what exactly is gluten and why has it gotten a bad wrap?
What Is Gluten?
Gluten is known as a protein composite found in grains. Have you heard of wheat? Well, wheat is the most well-known gluten source, but you can also find gluten in barley, spelt, rye and all kinds of other grains.
When you combine flour and grains that contain gluten and water, it forms a sticky cross-linked network of proteins that allows bread to rise when it is baked. In fact, the name gluten is actually derived from its glue-like properties.
Gluten is composed of two proteins, gliadin and glutenin. And, it is found in most bread, pasta, cereals and many processed foods, but what’s so bad about it?
The Dark Side of Gluten
According to a review published in the New England Journal of Medicine, there are around 55 diseases that can be caused by eating gluten ranging from canker sores, osteoporosis and inflammatory bowel disease.
Gluten causes trouble by making the body inflamed, resulting in an array of negative effects in the body. Gluten can also affect your brain, your digestive tract and your joints.
Gluten has also been known to disrupt the barrier of the intestine, which allows harmful substances to leak through into the bloodstream resulting in inflammatory bowel disease and other digestive problems. Gluten can even make IBS worse in some cases with people already experiencing this problem.
Aside from gluten affecting your digestive system, it also affects your brain. Since gluten causes inflammation within the body, it can cause inflammation in the brain as well.
Scientists has studied the link between mental health and wheat consumption for over half a decade now. Research has found that schizophrenia patients have had major improvements when they stopped eating gluten. Another study discovered that a large group of children with autism had an enhanced reaction to gluten.
Eating gluten can also increase the symptoms of depression in some people. A trial reported that eating gluten increased depression symptoms in groups of patients who weren’t sensitive to gluten.
Why You Should Care About Consuming Gluten
Many people assume that without an official diagnosis from their doctor, the dangers of consuming gluten don’t apply to them. But celiac disease and gluten intolerance are more common than we assume, even though skeptics might not think so.
For those who don’t know, celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder where your immune system attacks the small intestine whenever you consume gluten. This condition can lead to a variety of health issues like fatigue, joint pain, malnutrition and depression.
Naysayers point out that only about 1 percent of the population has been diagnosed with celiac disease, but as a matter of fact it is estimated that 83 percent of people struggling with celiac disease haven’t even been diagnosed.
Gluten intolerance is another disorder that happens as a negative reaction to gluten and is more common than celiac disease. But you should be aware that you don’t necessarily have to have celiac disease or even a gluten intolerance to be affected.
A lot of research has emerged that support these claims. As wheat’s nutritional profile constantly changes, it’s containing more gluten and less of the vitamin and minerals that our body desperately needs, hence, the number of people with gluten intolerance will only get bigger.
As the great Hippocrates once said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” If you are having troubles with gluten, or if you are constantly finding yourself bloated and experiencing digestive issues, try giving a gluten-free diet a chance and if you don’t like it, you can also go back to your original diet. As always, remember to speak with your doctor or nutritionist before switching your diets to make sure doing so is a good idea for you.