What Does Gluten Do To Your Body, and Why Does Everyone Avoid It?

With gluten-free diets becoming more prevalent in recent days, most people laugh it out considering it as just another diet fad that will fade with time. However, people need to educate themselves on the topic first before judging the food choices.

What is gluten? It is a protein found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye and spelt. Gluten acts like a bonding agent that helps hold the grain together. It imparts a stretchy quality to the dough. Now, though gluten is a protein, most people have started avoiding it for various reasons. Some follow a gluten-free diet to help control symptoms associated with gluten-induced conditions while some go gluten-free because they believe it will help them control health issues such as chronic fatigue, weight gain, headaches and depression [1].

What exactly gluten does to your body?

In some people, gluten can cause havoc. The immune cells of their body identify it as a toxin and start attacking it, which over time can cause inflammation in the body [2]. Some of the major side effects of consuming gluten diet include bloating, diarrhea, weight loss, intestinal damage, etc.

Here are some conditions that are either caused by intake consumption of gluten through a diet:

  1. Celiac disease

Celiac disease also known as gluten-sensitive enteropathy is an autoimmune disorder, which generates immune reaction to eating gluten [3]. In such a condition, eating a diet that contains gluten can harm the villi of the small intestine and result in the poor absorption of nutrients [4]. A person suffering from this disease may have symptoms such as anemia, osteoporosis, skin rashes, elevated liver enzymes, depression, headaches, and they may suffer from infertility or miscarriages. Pediatric patients may have unexplained growth failure, short stature, suffer from diarrhea, delayed puberty, and iron deficiency.

  1. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is also referred to as gluten-sensitive enteropathy (GSE) or gluten intolerance [5]. The symptoms of GSE seem similar to that of celiac disease. However, there won’t be any increase in the antibodies’ levels and intestinal damage. Since there is no diagnostic test available to detect GSE, it is determined by a negative diagnostic celiac test and watching out for the persisting symptoms.

  1. Dermatitis herpetiformis (DH)

Dermatitis herpetiformis (DH) is a type of skin rash that is caused as a reaction to eating gluten [5]. It is also an autoimmune disorder that causes persistent red, itchy rashes on the skin. These rashes may later produce blisters and bumps. It is possible for people suffering from celiac disease to have DH but those with DH may not have celiac disease.

  1. Gluten ataxia

Gluten ataxia is an autoimmune disorder triggered by the consumption of gluten [6]. It affects the nerve tissues and creates problems with voluntary muscle movement and muscle control.

  1. Wheat allergy

Wheat allergy is caused when the immune system mistakes gluten or some proteins found in wheat as a foreign agent such as a virus or bacterium. Here, the immune system releases antibodies to counter the protein, resulting in difficulty breathing, congestion etc.

Gluten Wasn’t An Issue With The Older Generation Then Why It Is now?

Grains such as wheat, rye, barley etc. have been the staple food of various cultures for many centuries across the world. Our ancestors ate grains (though they have not been of the same variety) through various food preparations for years, then why gluten is an issue now.

Dr William Davis, author of the “Wheat Belly” and Dr David Perlmutter shedding light on this topic speculate that gluten debate can be attributed to the hybridization of grains carried out to increase their nutritional value and gluten content [7].

While this claim has not been established yet, dietary gluten continues to be a real problem for many people around the world. Gluten-free diet thus remains the cornerstone of therapy for all gluten-dependent conditions.

 References:

  1. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000813.htm
  2. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/gluten/
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/celiac-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20352220
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5439366/
  5. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/gluten/
  6. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/gluten-free-diet/art-20048530
  7. https://thehealthsciencesacademy.org/health-tips/gluten-free/

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