Overcoming adrenal fatigue, thyroid issues, and disorders from autoimmune symptoms can be challenging. It’s becoming an increasingly well-known fact that these common health issues are related to one particular food. There are more and more products popping up on the grocery shelves with a new label: Gluten-free!
What does it mean for you?
Let’s start with a short history on what gluten is.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt, and kamut, and it’s questionable about oats. It’s in grains, but not all grains. There are non-gluten grains.
The word “gluten” comes from the Latin “gluten”, meaning glue, which is appropriate since gluten is a very gluey substance. When you eat things that contain gluten, it causes a type of glue-like mass to form in your intestinal tract. That’s one of the many good reasons to stop eating it.
When you eat the gluten in these grains, it can cause health problems. Digestive disorders, depression, migraines, ADHD, autism, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, balance problems, epilepsy, inability to concentrate, autoimmune thyroid disease, and dermatitis are amongst the many disorders that have now been linked to gluten intolerance.
It’s kind of scary that one small protein can wreak so much havoc. Gluten works its mischief in several ways.
One is by triggering autoimmune responses, another is by causing malabsorption of nutrients, and the third is through activation of opioid receptors in the brain.
Opiates in Gluten
You know that “once I start I can’t stop” feeling that many people have about bread and other baked goods? That feeling is actually similar to a cocaine addiction. And it’s caused by gluten. Some of the peptides that result from the digestion of gluten are powerful opiate-like compounds, known as gluteomorphines.
One of the complaints I hear when people embark upon a gluten-free diet is that the cravings are so intense.
This can be explained by the reaction of the opioid receptors to sudden withdrawal of the opioids. Now left unbound they are starving for more, similar to the mechanism found in drug, alcohol, and nicotine withdrawal, and cravings result.
Gluten Effects on Your Immune System
Gluten is a problem if you have sensitivity to it because it causes an immune system reaction. Immune system reactions to gluten are very widespread, and much more common than you may think.
Your immune system is your body’s protective force. It’s an army that protects you from invaders. If you have a sensitivity to gluten, your immune system perceives gluten as an invader and mounts an incredible attack, so it can take the protein that’s in the gluten – gliadin – and demolish it as if it were a bacteria or microbe that’s going to harm you. In the process of doing that, it creates inflammation. The inflammation is what causes the immune system reaction that gluten is known for. Gluten causes wide-spread inflammation throughout your body.
A little bit of knowledge about how the immune system works really helps in understanding how this gluten problem affects you.
Bacteria are made of proteins. Foods have protein in them. Both these proteins have little amino acids that run throughout them. What the immune system does is create antibodies that will attack the protein it feels is an invader.
It’s like a lock and a key. You may have a whole set of keys, but you can only get one key to open a particular door. You can try them but if they don’t look exactly alike, they won’t go in that keyhole. The immune system creates these little antibodies that are very specific for specific proteins. Unfortunately, they’re not as specific as our keys.
If there is a similarity between the protein in gluten – gliadin – that the antibody is attacking and some of the proteins in your thyroid gland, the antibody created to attack the gliadin then attacks your thyroid gland. That causes the thyroid to become swollen and inflamed. It can’t produce thyroid hormones, which in turn affects your metabolism. That causes all the symptoms of hypothyroidism.
That’s what’s happening in your body when you’re eating gluten and you’re sensitive to it. It creates an army in your immune system that attacks and works to get rid of the gluten.
The process of attacking and getting rid of the gluten creates inflammation. It can create problems in your digestion. Then it can create inflammation in various parts of your body that cause malfunction.
Gluten Effects on Your Digestive System
Gluten can cause inflammation in your digestive tract. This results in a condition known as celiac disease. Celiac disease is a well-known medical condition that you’ll find in all the medical pathology books. It's a sensitivity to gluten that results in damage to the villi in the small intestine.
The villi are little, finger-like projections that line the small intestine and help facilitate nutrient absorption. Imagine your small intestine as a tube with finger-like projections. The projections are almost like the little, protective hairs in your nose. They allow the foods that are fully digested to pass between them and absorb the nutrients.
What happens in celiac disease is the sensitivity to gluten results in damage to the villi because they get completely flattened. Imagine a steamroller that goes down the road and flattens things out. Imagine it going through your intestine and flattening out all the villi.
It wreaks havoc in your intestinal tract. It prevents you from absorbing the nutrients in the foods you eat, leading to symptoms of nutrient deficiencies. It causes symptoms like gas, bloating, and diarrhea. It can give you that “I just ate and now I have to go to the bathroom!” feeling. A fair number of people experience that.
If you have a gluten intolerance, in addition to creating damage to the villi in the small intestine, it's also likely creating inflammation that can damage other parts of your body, too.
Getting Off the Gluten Wagon With Living Foods
Because of the addictive nature of gluten, it can be uncomfortable to withdraw from gluten. The cravings can become intense, but the physical intensity of the withdrawal symptoms rarely lasts more than a few days. The negative effects of gluten on your health last much longer and are much worse.
What's the best way to start in removing gluten? It’s tough to go off gluten hard-core. So I recommend baby steps. Start with breakfast. Because so many start their day with toast, cereal, muffins, etc., it’s a great place to begin. My Power Breakfast Ideas book contains some delicious ways to start your day. Strive for no gluten before noon.
Learn to dehydrate crackers and breads. Or, you can purchase delicious dehydrated breads and crackers online and at some health food stores. Another option is to buy baked gluten-free breads and crackers; however, it's important to read the labels. They tend to have a high glycemic index, meaning that they can cause a rapid spike in blood sugars, usually followed by a rapid decline. They also frequently contain undesirable ingredients like sugar, eggs, dairy, and processed oils. You can also make sandwiches with lettuce wraps or jicama slices instead of bread.
Replace pastas with gluten-free pasta or kelp noodles. I have some great recipes on the blog for using kelp noodles. You can also get a Saladacco Spiral Slicer and make your own pasta noodles out of zucchini. Even a simple potato peeler makes long thin slices. I found a potato peeler that has dual sides. One side is traditional and the other shreds, and makes wonderful spaghetti-like zucchini or cucumber strands.
There are many wonderful raw and living food options for replacing gluten in your diet. They taste better…and you’ll feel better.
Learn as much as you can about gluten. Listen to my blog talk radio show on Gluten Intolerance. Read gluten-free articles and gluten free recipe books. Get your FREE gluten-free diet survival kit at http://www.drritamarie.com/glutenfree/ containing gluten-free recipes, resource lists, and audios.
Your health is in your hands. Overcoming chronic fatigue, adrenal exhaustion, immune system disorders, and digestive problems all start with going gluten-free. Start today. You have so many gluten free diet resources available to you.