Many staples of the traditional American diet have undergone dramatic changes in the past hundred years. But some foods have had a larger impact on the average consumer, namely grains and flours. Most grains (even whole grains) do not provide the same nutritional benefits that they once did. And grains that contain gluten (like wheat, barley, rye, and spelt) can actually cause more harm than good when consumed.
What is Celiac Disease
Celiac Disease (CD) is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine that occurs in genetically predisposed people of all ages (1). CD is a condition where the immune system has an inflammatory, or “attack,” response to gliadin, a gluten protein, and waste away the lining of the small intestine.
Symptoms of CD can include:
- digestive discomfort
- chronic constipation or diarrhea
These symptoms are due to the small intestine’s poor ability to digest food, essential vitamins and minerals because of the damaged intestinal lining.
Why has CD recently become prevalent?
Research shows that many people are genetically predisposed to CD, with genetic markers going back for generations. Possible triggers for this could be the industrial agriculture practices and use of GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) in wheat, grains, and produce crops (2).
Industrial Agricultural Causes
Starting around the 1960’s, scientists and farmers began to look at ways to increase the yield of wheat crops and improve its’ resistance to pests. As a result, a more gluten-rich, crossbred of wheat has become the standard in most grocery store items containing wheat in any form (look for all-purpose flour, cake flour, wheat bran, wheat germ, wheat grass, unbleached wheat flour, modified wheat starch, and more). This cultivation of wheat has led to higher levels of gluten and gliadin, the proteins found in wheat that inflame CD.
Use of GMOs
The secondary factor for an increase in the prevalence of CD is that of genetically modified (GM) crops. Some examples of GM crops with the greatest abundance in the US are soy, corn, cotton, canola, and sugar beets (grown for regular table sugar). These crops are treated with the herbicide Roundup©, which contains a chemical called glyphosate. And while wheat itself is not a genetically modified (GM) crop, it is frequently sprayed with glyphosate-rich herbicides to prevent pests from destroying the hybridized crops. Glyphosate is proven to contribute to an imbalance of gut bacteria, particularly in the small intestine (3).
The traditional Western diet is rich in industrial crops and GMO foods. The frequent consumption of these foods can cause a harmful imbalance in the gut, potentially triggering CD or gluten intolerance (4). This may explain why many individuals without CD are finding that their digestion is still intolerant to gluten, a condition known as a Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS)(5).
Just as rates of CD occurrence are on the rise, rates of Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) seem to be increasing as much as 6 times faster than CD. Nearly one third of the American population is attempting a gluten-free diet in search of symptom relief (6). Unfortunately, gluten sensitivity doesn’t always present with disgestion related symptoms, making it difficult to identify gluten as the culprit.
Curious to know whether you have NCGS?
Check in with those symptoms you may have written off to a stress-filled life of the usual work and family commitments. Some of the non-digestive symptoms those with NCGS experience are acne, migraines, fatigue, insomnia, and even neurological issues like depression or anxiety. The symptom list is lengthy and will vary from person to person.
While there is yet no standard test for NCGS, as there is with CD, many doctors are beginning to rely on a blood test for diagnosis. A higher than average presence of anti-gliadin antibodies can indicate an intolerance to gluten (7). Because a blood test may not always be the most feasible solution, many are attempting a gluten-free diet in an attempt to discover their own sensitivity to gluten. Removing gluten for 2 to 4 weeks, depending on the severity of symptoms you are looking to measure, can give a clear picture of whether relief is seen with complete elimination of all gluten-rich foods.
Are you unsure if trying a gluten-free diet if best for you? Or wanting to try it out but unsure where to start?
Our next segment will detail the potential risks of not eliminating gluten when you should, plus how you can still enjoy eating without your favorite breads, pastas, cakes, and cookies.
- Serologic and Genetic Markers of Celiac Disease: A Sequential Study in the Screening of First Degree Relatives, Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, 2006: http://journals.lww.com/jpgn/Fulltext/2006/02000/Serologic_and_Genetic_Markers_of_Celiac_Disease__A.7.aspx
- Are Genetically Modified Foods a Gut-Wrenching Combination? Institute for Responsible Technology, 2013: http://dickatlee.com/issues/gmo/pdf/exploding_gluten_sensitivity_summary.pdf
- Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthisis by the Gut Microbiome, Entropy, 2013: http://www.mdpi.com/1099-4300/15/4/1416?utm_medium=referral&utm_source=pulsenews
- Glyphosate, Pathways to Modern Diseases II, Celiac Sprue and Gluten Intolerance, Interdisciplinary Toxicology, 2014: http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/intox.2013.6.issue-4/intox-2013-0026/intox-2013-0026.xml
- Non-celiac Wheat Sensitivity Diagnosed by Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Challenge, American Journal of Gastroenterology, 2012: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22825366
- Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity: Important Diagnosis or Dietary Fad, Amercican Family Physician, 2014: http://www.aafp.org/afp/2014/0115/p82.html
- Effect of Gluten Free Diet on Immune Response to Gliadin in Patients with Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity, BMC Gastroenterology 2014: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-230X/14/26