By Mila McManus, MD and Nancy Mehlert, MS
Gluten can seem like a ghost. We may not be familiar with all the sources, but most of us have heard the word by now. You can’t see it like you can see a bottle of Coca Cola or a candy bar. It hides in other consumables. So it does seem rather mysterious and ghost-like, and thus makes a good topic for October and all things spooky. As we care for ourselves and our families, understanding all we can about gluten is a critical part of making efforts to better health. Let’s try to clear up the mysteries.
Datis Kharrazian, DHSc, DC, MS says in his book Why Isn’t My Brain Working? (2013): “No single dietary protein is a more potent trigger of neurological dysfunction and neurological autoimmunity than gluten, the protein found in wheat. We’re seeing dramatic increases in the number of people sensitive to gluten in the United States. Research shows gluten sensitivity has risen sharply in the last 50 years.”[i]
Gluten is made up of a sticky portion called glutenin and a protein called gliadin. One does not exist without the other and gliadin itself has three more fractions called alpha, omega and gamma. Wheat is the primary source of gluten, though there are other grains that also have gluten including barley, rye, spelt, kamut and oats (unless the oats are properly processed by a certified gluten free method).
The gluten in ancient wheat of a century ago was very different. It was nature’s real food. Today, gluten, and more specifically wheat, has been significantly hybridized, meaning the seed has been altered many times over the years to create a new, man-made wheat, if you will, that appears to trigger immune reactions. In other words, it is not natural or understood by the human body as a real, nature made food. In addition to this fake wheat, it has also been further altered through a process called deamidation. The food industry deamidates wheat using acids and enzymes to make wheat water soluble so that it mixes more easily with other foods. And let’s not forget about all the pesticides sprayed on the wheat crops and the chemcials used during the harvesting process! A study published in the European Journal of Inflammation concluded this new compound may be the major cause of hidden inflammatory responses to foods[ii]. These things make wheat a fake, man-made substance that perhaps should not be honored with the name “food”.
Gluten is pervasive in processed foods and products and can be truly hidden under unsuspecting names, often not listed at all, yet very easily present. This makes a gluten allergy or sensitivity extremely difficult to navigate, especially in the world of packaged, manufactured and restaurant food. Few realize that modified food starch, food emulsifiers, food stabilizers, artificial food coloring, malt extracts, and dextrins often have gluten in them. Even some clarifying agents used in red wine can have gluten. Equally unsuspecting sources of gluten include many deli meats, instant coffee, some ketchups and mustards, beer, soy sauce, imitation crab meat and even your shampoo and prescription medications!
Equally frustrating is that the immune system often does not make good distinction between gluten and other similar proteins and, as a result, attacks not only gluten, but other proteins recognized to be the same. Foods that fall into this area include milk proteins, corn, all oats including certified gluten free oats, yeast, millet, and rice. The immune system can also confuse nervous tissues with gluten and attack the nervous system, resulting in neurologic symptoms or an autoimmune disease such as Multiple Sclerosis. In addition, when the immune system attacks gluten, this attack can break down the blood-brain barrier (the thin lining that protects the brain) and lead to what is called a leaky brain. This is much like the Leaky Gut Syndrome of the gastrointestinal system.
You can see how important it is to understand that gluten and wheat have a very broad impact on health, not only in the intestines, but the central nervous system and skin. Despite extensive research, many physicians do not understand Celiac disease, much less gluten sensitivity. Most physicians who do have knowledge of it relate it only to intestinal damage and gut issues, ignoring the potentially dramatic impacts on the central nervous system. According to Dr. Kharrazian, the average neurologist has no idea gluten can impact every part of the nervous system from the brain, the spinal cord, and peripheral nerves that extend into the arms and feet, causing any number of neurologic symptoms and diseases. It also can directly affect our skin, being an underlying cause of such conditions as Rosacea, acne, or keratosis pilaris. And sadly, the criteria and testing for diagnosis of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are outdated, unreliable, and incomplete. The best test is to radically remove it from the diet and see the results.
Gluten sensitivity has been shown to be a significant trigger in a broad host of health conditions including psychiatric and behavioral disorders, autoimmune diseases, hearing loss and restless leg syndrome. Virtually every part of the nervous system that has been researched has shown gluten to be a clear trigger for diseases of the central nervous system.[iii] If you do not have your health, or if you have an autoimmune disease of any kind, feel that your brain is not functioning optimally, have digestive, neurological, or skin issues or a combination of any of these, you owe it to yourself to learn more about gluten, how to avoid it and eliminate it from your diet. (Tests are also available). Here at TWIHW we are well prepared to help you with dietary advice, useful supplements and healing protocols. Call 281-298-6742 for help today!
[i] Page 158
[ii] Vojdani A, O’Bryan T, Kellermann GH. The immunology of immediate and delayed hypersensitivity reaction to gluten. European J of Inflammation. 2008;6(1):1-10.
[iii] Kharrazian,D. Why Isn’t My Brain Working?, Carlsbad, CA.,Elephant Press. 2013. Page 134.