What’s the deal with so many people claiming gluten sensitivity? I have taken classes and read research from this side of the Atlantic and now the other side as well. It looks to be for real. Some of it is from better diagnostics and some of it is from hybridization, a little from genetic modification, and some from a process called deamidation, as well as a few other factors.
Many of the modifications to wheat have been made to change the quality and quantity of the gluten in the wheat. More gluten means lighter, fluffier breads, cakes and pastries. Genetic modification (producing GMO’s) is commonly done to increase disease and/or pest resistance, thus improving the yield. Deamidation is done to make gluten a better thickener for sauces and other foods where texture and consistency are part of the appeal.
Most of the traditional testing for gluten sensitivity is done to find reactivity to one specific fraction of gluten, but we know there are at least six fractions (and probably more.) There are tests available at certain labs that will test for reactivity to all six of the known gluten fractions.
This is super simplified, so don’t try to use this post as a reference for a research paper, but here goes. By its very nature, gluten is prone to cause inflammation, starting in your gut. Once the inflammation begins, it signals the immune system to produce antibodies, some of which attack the lining of the intestines. Once this lining is inflamed, it starts to lose some of its integrity, and the cells aren’t held together as tightly as they should be. Food particles that are not completely digested are able to sneak between the cells and, you guessed it, “leak” into the tissues outside the gut – the infamous “leaky gut” syndrome.
Once outside the gut, these food molecules are definitely “foreign”, and the immune system gets really excited. It decides that this substance is a dangerous invader and will henceforth produce antibodies to this food any time it is ingested. A sensitivity is born.
Now things start to get nasty. As the immune system gets hypervigilant, it starts to tag other foods, and even the hapless diner’s own tissues as invaders or enemies. The term “cross-reaction” comes in here, and means that if the person reacts to one substance, gluten for instance, s/he may start to react to something else that contains a sequence of molecules identical to the original reactive food. As an example, let’s say there are four molecules (I’ll just designate them with letters) in the sequence “i-t-c-h” in the gluten. Our diner’s immune system recognizes “i-t-c-h” as a foreign invader and sends antibodies after it. Uh oh – thyroid tissue also contains the “i-t-c-h” sequence! Yes, indeed, the immune system also sends antibodies after the “i-t-c-h” in the thyroid tissue, culminating in autoimmune thyroid. There is much more information on autoimmunity from cross-reactivity with foods, but I’ll save that for another time.
As I said, this is super simplified. My purpose is to help the reader understand that gluten sensitivity is so much more than the inconvenience of a little indigestion. Dr. Perlmutter is a medical neurologist who wrote a book called “Grain Brain”, which is an excellent source of more information on this subject. Dr. Tom O’Bryan is a chiropractor and nutritionist who focuses on gluten-related health issues. Check out his website with several short videos and audios.
Future posts will continue with more super simplified info on autoimmunity and how you can find out which autoimmune disorders you may be prone to develop, based on state-of-the-art laboratory analysis.