Gluten from Latin meaning “glue” is a protein found in cereal grains such as wheat, barley and rye and is also found in other related grass species such as: spelt, triticale, kamut, bulgur, couscous, durum, orzo, semolina, panko etc. Gluten is what gives elasticity to dough and helps it to rise and keep its shape and also gives a chewy texture.
Gluten shows up throughout todays’ modern food supply. Not only is gluten in the obvious places such as pastas, breads, breakfast cereals, pizza and pie crust but is also in some unsuspecting hidden food sources such as: beer, cake flour, lunch meats, bouillons and broths, candy, marinades, breading and coating mix, croutons, imitation bacon or seafood, soy sauce and can be found in food coloring and flavorings. In addition to all of these places, gluten is used widely in non-food items such as: medications, lipstick and lip balm, cosmetics, lotions, shampoo and conditioner, and dietary supplements, etc.
Furthermore, gluten is now more potent than ever whereas the agricultural community has been selective breeding wheat for years to produce more and more gluten content. The result is that we live in a society of gluten overload and this overload is manifesting itself in the form of increased incidence of gluten intolerance or sensitivity, and most notably, Celiacs Disease.
Celiac Disease (also called celiac sprue) is a chronic autoimmune disorder of the digestive system, in particular the small intestine. Although the causes of Celiacs are not fully understood and many believe that Celiacs is largely hereditary, anyone of any age regardless of family history can develop the disease. What is known at this time is that Celiacs appears to be more prevalent among caucasian populations.
When a person with Celiac Disease eats gluten, it triggers a response by the bodies’ own immune system which in turn attacks it’s own tissue, in particular the lining of the small intestine. This attack damages the villi (finger-like projections in the small intestine) that aid in the absorption of nutrients from food. The result of this malabsorption is malnutrition and a host of other possible conditions of which symptoms may include: diarrhea, weight-loss, gas, bloating and abdominal pain, muscle cramps, varying skin rashes, changes in mood and depression, bone pain and weakness, joint pain, fatigue and failure to thrive, and stunted growth in children. If not treated, Celiac Disease can become serious and even life threatening as it weakens the overall body, which can contribute directly to the most serious diseases of which one can think.
The fact that Celiac Disease can contribute to so many health issues makes it especially hard to diagnose. Many times health care professionals will use blood tests and or a biopsy of the intestinal tissue to help determine if it exists. But perhaps the best way for anyone to determine if they have issues with gluten and possibly Celiac Disease is to abstain altogether from gluten. If significant improvement to overall health and digestion is noticed when gluten is removed from the diet one should suspect either Celiac Disease or gluten sensitivity.
Gluten sensitivity or intolerance may cause many of the aforementioned symptoms, but unlike Celiac Disease there is no evidence that the consumption of gluten causes notable damage to the small intestine. Although gluten sensitivity, especially if it is somewhat serious and ongoing, would have to be suspect as a precursor to Celiac Disease.
Because there is no cure, the only widely accepted way to deal with Celiac Disease or gluten sensitivity at this time is to lead a gluten free lifestyle. Of course this means consuming a diet that is completely free of gluten, which poses real challenges because gluten is so widespread in the food supply. It is very difficult to determine if a food is actually gluten free by reading the ingredients even if wheat, barley or rye are not mentioned. This is because gluten can be in the ingredients in the form of maltodextrin, gelatinized starch, hydrolyzed vegetable protein and modified food starch just to name a few. Fortunately, the gluten free food industry is expanding to meet the needs of so many that deal with Celiac Disease and there are more and more offering of certified gluten free foods that take the guess work out of reading and deciphering ingredient labels.
Written by DMK of Seven Grains