More than one in ten people now avoid gluten - it is one of the common causes of bloating, digestion issues and IBS. You're 40% more likely to suffer poor skin and hair, 35% more likely to suffer a lack of energy, and 20% more likely to suffer from stress and anxiety if you suffer digestion and IBS issues.
So what is gluten, is it bad for you, and what are the signs of gluten intolerance? Let us explain.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Gluten acts like a type of glue that keeps bread and products made with flour stuck together and prevents crumbling. This is why bakers commonly chose a type of flour with a high gluten content for making bread.
Is gluten bad for you?
A low level of gluten is not necessarily bad if you do not have any sensitivities to it. Ancient wheat such as spelt has a much lower content of gluten, but modern wheat grains are bred to contain a high level of gluten, and too much gluten can be a problem for anyone. Today, many more people have a problem with gluten simply due to the higher levels of gluten in our diets.
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Gluten is well known for having a negative impact on people with certain genetic factors and health conditions, including coeliac disease, a gluten intolerance and wheat allergies. However, leaving these aside, gluten can be a major problem for anyone who doesn’t have these conditions. This is down to Leaky Gut Syndrome.
Leaky Gut Syndrome
When gluten is consumed and metabolised, it produces a substance in the gut called 'Zonulin'. Zonulin can cause the cells of the gut to move apart and cause a syndrome called 'Leaky Gut Syndrome', which is where some of the toxins from the gut are allowed to pass into the blood, setting off an inflammatory reaction and contributing towards the development of autoimmune diseases, allergies and other inflammatory diseases such as fibromyalgia. If these conditions are already present, then gluten consumption will make them worse.
What is gluten intolerance?
There are a few different types of gluten intolerance.
The most commonly known gluten intolerance condition is 'Coeliac disease'. This is an autoimmune condition, where the immune system attacks the 'villi' (small finger-like projections) in the small intestines when gluten is consumed. These 'villi' flatten and are unable to absorb nutrients from food, leading to malnourishment. The only treatment is a strict gluten free diet.
Learn more about coeliac disease in 'Reasons you might be bloated'.
A wheat allergy is different to coeliac disease. The body produces an allergic response to wheat. This is typically systemic and involves the release of histamine. Allergic reactions to wheat can be mild, such as causing eczema, or they can be life threatening and occur within seconds or minutes.
Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS)
As the name suggests, this is not full-blown coeliac disease, however the symptoms can be similar.
What causes gluten sensitivity?
There are a few factors involved in the development of gluten sensitivity.
For gluten sensitivity to occur, there are generally genetic factors involved. Autoimmunity and allergies develop when there is an abnormality in the balance of 'T helper cells', a type of immune cell. Due to genetics, some people cannot regulate the balance of 'T helper cells' and autoimmune diseases such as coeliac disease can occur, as well as allergies to wheat.
Even with all of the wrong genetics, coeliac disease and a wheat allergy will not occur without a leaky gut. The cells in the gut move apart and allow toxins and food particles to enter the blood stream, triggering autoimmunity and allergies. A leaky gut can be caused by too much gluten, stress and anxiety, during pregnancy, and by some artificial food additives.
Low levels of Vitamin D
Vitamin D is an essential vitamin needed in the body to regulate inflammation. Individuals with autoimmune diseases and allergies typically do not have enough Vitamin D. Many of these individuals have the inability to store Vitamin D and need to supplement with Vitamin D every winter.
Learn more in 'How do know if I'm deficient in Vitamin D?'.
Discover our highly absorbable Vegan Vitamin D3
Signs of gluten intolerance
For each of the main causes of gluten intolerance there are a number of signs of an intolerance.
Coeliac disease can have many symptoms, or none at all. Common symptoms include:
- digestive pain
- excess gas and foul smelling gas
- fatty and floating poo. Learn more in 'What your poo says about your health'.
- acid reflux
- nausea and headaches
- skin disorders
- a weakened immune system
- weight loss and fatigue.
If you think you might have coeliac disease, your doctor can give you a blood test and look for antibodies. If these come back positive, a biopsy of the intestines will be taken to check for damage to the villi.
Signs of a wheat allergy are very different to coeliac disease. They typically include:
- swelling, itching & irritation of the mouth & throat
- hives or itching of the skin
- nasal congestion
- difficulty breathing
- anaphylaxis (an acute allergic reaction)
- nausea or vomiting.
A wheat allergy is typically diagnosed with either a skin prick test or a blood test.
Non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS)
Once coeliac disease and a wheat allergy have been ruled out and an improvement in symptoms following a gluten free diet is observed, non-coeliac gluten sensitivity is diagnosed.
You might also enjoy reading 'Common and unusual symptoms of IBS'.
View our range of gluten free vegan vitamins and supplements.
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