Having gone gluten free almost two months now, and wanting to know why I’ve had to do this even as my symptoms of gluten intolerance have either begun to dissipate or have disappeared completely, this writer has been on a quest to find out the truth behind the grass we know as “The Staff of Life,” and why it is that bread, pasta, cake, pie crust, and pizza dough seems to be the cause behind a whole lot of misery.
The truth of it begins with some simple realities:
- Ancient cultures in the Middle East ate what was essentially sourdough bread, meaning that the grain was fermented prior to baking – something we no longer do with regularity.
- Wheat – as we know it – was not introduced in Europe until the Middle Ages.
- 30% of people of European descent carry the gene for Celiac Disease, the most severe of the widely known gluten related autoimmune diseases.
- American wheat hybrids were developed to work with the late 20th century mechanized bread making process, and have as much as ten times the gluten their European counterparts do.
What this indicates as taken as a whole is that those of us whose ancestors braved the Atlantic Ocean to come to America to start a new life may not have evolved to digest the glue-like protein found in grains known as gluten. That makes us susceptible to the various symptoms, and diseases, actually, related to gluten intolerance. A 2002 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine gave us an idea of just how many diseases are considered to be related (55).
A review paper in The New England Journal of Medicine listed 55 “diseases” that can be caused by eating gluten. (iv) These include osteoporosis, irritable bowel disease, inflammatory bowel disease, anemia, cancer, fatigue, canker sores, (v) and rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and almost all other autoimmune diseases. Gluten is also linked to many psychiatric (vi) and neurological diseases, including anxiety, depression, (vii) schizophrenia, (viii) dementia, (ix) migraines, epilepsy, and neuropathy (nerve damage). (x) It has also been linked to autism.(ix)…
Gluten sensitivity is actually an autoimmune disease that creates inflammation throughout the body, with wide-ranging effects across all organ systems including your brain, heart, joints, digestive tract, and more. It can be the single cause behind many different “diseases.” To correct these diseases, you need to treat the cause–which is often gluten sensitivity–not just the symptoms.
Dr. Mark Hyman provided that list in 2011, nine years after the study was completed. So why haven’t so many people heard that maybe, just maybe, the truth behind at least some incidence of those diseases and disorders is a patient’s reaction to gluten? According to some sources, the average time it takes new and not sensationalized information to reach across the full medical field including the curriculum in medical schools is seventeen (17) years. According to others, there isn’t any profit in telling a patient to just take the gluten out of the diet. Whatever the reason, until the misplaced gluten free diet craze hit, this information was not well publicized.
Whatever the honest bare bones truth behind the “why we don’t know about this connection,” ANOTHER study, this time from Sweden published in 2012 in the Journal of the American Medical Association gave more startling news about the gluten-disease connection:
Patients with mild intestinal inflammation and gluten sensitivity have a higher risk of death, even if their symptoms are not severe enough to warrant a diagnosis of full-blown celiac disease, a new Swedish study found.
Though still modest in absolute terms, risk of mortality increased by 75% for patients with mild inflammation of the small intestine at a median follow-up of 7.2 years (95% CI 1.64 to 1.79), and by 35% for patients with latent celiac disease (defined as gluten sensitivity) at median follow-up of 6.7 years (95% CI 1.14 to 1.58), according to a report in the Sept. 16 Journal of the American Medical Association.
The study also found that patients diagnosed with celiac disease had a 30% greater risk of death at a median follow-up of 8.8 years (95% CI 1.33 to 1.45). This supports previous research that found higher mortality rates in celiac patients.
The main causes of death for celiac patients were cardiovascular disease and cancer.
Chronic fatigue has also now been connected to gluten issues. There is every possibility that patients succumbing to one disease or another had additional underlying reasons for contraction, but what gluten does in those who are effected is damage the small intestine’s ability to absorb nutrients, the severity of which depends on the level of sensitivity, intolerance or allergy. Unless one follows the subject, this information is not nearly as readily placed in front of consumers like the latest Kardashian divorce.
So, why is it we have so much gluten in the American diet? As mentioned above, wheat currently used in the United States was hybrided, not unlike Fr. Gregor Mendel did with pea plants when he was studying genetics, in order that the plants be pest resistant, and have a greater yield. (This does not actually count as GMO. No pesticides were involved.) In addition, the new wheat varieties produced flour that made bread with a high loft despite being baked in the rough and tumble mechanized process. (Think Wonder Bread being squeezably soft.) That the additional gluten was responsible for this was known at the time the process was perfected, but what was probably not known was that it would result in so many people having adverse reactions.
This is not to say that all one has to do is avoid non-fermented wheat to get around the gluten issue. Rye, barley and a handful of other grains also contain gluten. There can also be more than one dietary trigger for various symptoms. Each person needs to make the determination for his or herself with a combination of medical guidance and observed reactions to various foods. But the truth is that medicine and science are just beginning to understand the impact of gluten on human health. It is worth considering some sort of intolerance as an underlying cause of any number of diseases.