Welcome to Week Three in my series on “The Truth about Gluten”. This week we will discuss what you have all been waiting for – why I believe gluten is bad for you. So let’s get started!
As I mentioned previously, there is an extensive amount of literature available on this subject. My original go at this post became very, very long and overly complicated. So below you will find my interpretation on a fairly light level, with links to further reading should you wish to delve a little deeper! I have highlighted key points so you can skip straight to that if you like.
Firstly let’s touch on the points I raised last week. Now we know that:
o Gluten is a protein composite found in certain grains
o Gluten (being a toxin) protects grains from predators by ensuring their seeds can germinate after being eaten
o The grains we eat today are very different to that of our ancestors
So let’s dive in…
The Effect of Gluten on the Intestines
If a toxin enters the body it can cause disease or damage tissues. As gluten is a toxin contained in certain grains, when consumed in high amounts it is not easily digested by the body. Ongoing consumption of gluten exacerbates the problem and can result in damage to your intestines. Over time, the gut lining deteriorates which can lead to leaky gut (to read more on this, the Heal Your Gut Book by Lee Holmes is excellent).
Leaky gut can disrupt organ function, cause skin problems, fatigue, fogginess and anxiety and depression. And this condition can later result in obesity, diabetes and autoimmune disease. Why is this important to know? Well –
The Effect of Gluten on the Brain
The impact of gluten on the brain is not in isolation from the discussion above – there is interdependency between these two areas of the body. However in order to simplify the explanation I have broken it down this way.
In summary Dr Perlmutter (Grain Brain) believes the consumption of gluten is not just linked to issues with our digestion. He believes the resultant inflammation in the body can lead to Dementia, Alzheimer’s and other neurological dysfunctions.
He indicates that the majority of people today have gluten sensitivity and therefore when we consume gluten, our body triggers an inflammatory response (as our immune system reacts to the substance). When this occurs, our brain tissue can be damaged and we are more vulnerable to contracting more serious conditions down the track (such as Dementia and other brain disorders).
He cites many examples of how his patients have changed to gluten free diets and as a result have had improvement in their conditions. Examples include:
o People suffering from chronic headaches who have been cured
o Epileptic patients who have been considering risky surgery and relying on daily medication to manage seizures becoming completely seizure free
o A study found that dementia patients who changed to a diet free from gluten experienced either an improvement or stabilisation in their mental faculties.
In his words “I’ve watched this single dietary shift lift depression, relieve chronic fatigue, reverse type 2 diabetes, extinguish obsessive compulsive behaviour and cure many neurological challenges, from brain fog to bipolar disorder”.
Also interestingly, according to his book when consuming gluten, once it breaks down in the stomach – it becomes a mix of polypeptides and bind’s to the brain’s morphine receptors to produce a sensorial high. Similar to that of opiates (and sugar). This explains why gluten is contained in so many packaged foods today.
An Alternate View
Naturally there is plenty of opposition to Dr Perlmutters’ claims. There is a very lengthy article linked to from the quote below:
“Now, he’s absolutely right that we eat too much sugar and white bread. The rest of the story, though, is one just completely made up to support a hypothesis. And that’s not a good way to do science.”
It is also important to remember it’s not necessarily the toxin itself but the dosage we need to be concerned about. Even water is toxic to the body if consumed in very high doses. The same goes for grains – a small amount may not cause excess harm – but large doses might.
Since starting this blog, I have been pointed in the direction (by a lovely reader!) of Well Nourished. This site has some fantastic nutritional information – including articles on grains. Georgia believes we should eat grains, as long as they have been prepared properly, are a lower gluten variety and of course in moderation. She has some interesting links on how to choose “good” grains and how to prepare them.
So What Now? What’s the Verdict?
I have no doubt in my mind that the consumption of gluten impacts digestion and brain function. The “tolerable” amounts for individuals would vary, but I believe everyone would benefit from a reduction at least.
Whether or not you believe the Grain Brain claims, I definitely believe very, very strongly that food can harm or heal you. So I have no doubt if you are suffering from certain medical conditions a change in diet could be just what you need. There are so many examples of this everywhere today – I am one.
For me, my outlook on food and nutrition isn’t going to change – that being a focus on eating whole foods with as little processing as possible.
For myself the gluten I consume isn’t hidden in products (as generally I make most of our food myself) – it’s the blatantly obvious bread I consume on a sometimes daily basis.
When you think about it, I think gluten can prevent us from consuming more nutrient dense foods. Example being that if I was buying my lunch at a café and brought a Turkish bread with chicken & avocado for lunch (which I do!). There’s little nutritional value in that mostly bread based meal, which would be so filling that’s all I would eat. If I wasn’t eating gluten, I would choose a salad or similar which would be much better for me. That’s how I like to look at it.
Sometimes the quick and easy choice to eat bread means I’m missing out on better stuff.
Naturally if you are trying to repair some of the damage caused by poor dietary habits, you may need a complete break from aggravating foods (as suggested in Heal Your Gut). And there are going to be people who avoid gluten altogether and feel all the better for it.
Have a look at your diet and look for areas you might be consuming more gluten and sugar than you think. You might be the obvious “toast-o-holic” like me, or you could be consuming a lot of packaged goods that contain gluten.
So my outlook (and advice!) is to have a balanced approach to grains (and sugar). Having a piece of bread, or some oats every now and again isn’t going to kill you. Everyone’s tolerance will be different I’m sure. I know for me, I need to cut back so it isn’t a “go-to” food.
If you have to buy processed foods, read the label to understand what you are really buying and eating. Try to substitute some gluten products for gluten free and focus on eating real food. You never know how good you might feel!
Next week we will look at products you wouldn’t expect to contain gluten – but do!!!
I also have a post coming up that will teach you exactly how to read labels.
Phew – that was hard work! So – what do you think?
Here are some further reading to the articles linked to above:
Please note – the links to the books are affiliate ones! What does this mean you may ask? Nothing for you – the price to purchase is still the same, the commission fairy just sends me a few pennies for the referral. This helps me to keep doing what I do! :-)