Do the words GF mean anything to you? Are you forever looking for that Gluten Free sign on packaging? Gluten intolerance has become a harsh reality for countless Americans, including members of my household. So it was with much interest when I learned who be speaking at the monthly seminar at the Institute of Human and Machine Cognition, located in Ocala, FL. The Institute is part of the University of Florida and every month, they bring in a world-renowned scientist or professional to speak. December’s seminar featured Dr. Alessio Fassano of Naples, Italy. He is a Harvard professor, and considered the world’s foremost authority on gluten and its effect on humans.
It seems that gluten intolerance is the disease of the decade. There has been a sharp surge in people having trouble after eating wheat products. After eating a wheat product they usually feel just terrible: their stomachs are bloated, they may develop headaches, and it’s hours before they feel good again. I recall my wife groaning, after eating her favorite bread from her favorite bakery, that it felt like her stomach had turned into a cement mixer. Would it surprise you to learn that wheat has changed over the past 500 years? Wheat grown 500 years ago was tall – about 5 feet high and produced one grain of wheat. Wheat grown today is not as tall and produces many grains per plant. The reason for the change is that scientists have experimented with different varieties of wheat to create a plant that would increase production. The scientifically modified wheat plants grow faster, yield higher kernels per plant, and are easier to harvest. Production has increased but at a cost: there has been an increase in people having digestive trouble following wheat consumption.
So how do you know if you are gluten intolerant? The gold standard test is NOT a tissue biopsy but a chromosome test. 95% of all gluten intolerant patients have CD2 and CD8 chromosomal defects. These chromosomal markers have to be present for a patient to be declared gluten intolerant. Some people may exhibit some symptoms of gluten intolerance without these genetic markers present. They are classified as gluten sensitive. Their symptoms are not as severe.
The problem with a person with gluten intolerance is essentially a leaky gut. Without getting too medically technical, in essence, the gluten literally falls through the spaces between the intestinal villi (protuberances on the intestinal lining of the gut). The villi are a very important line of defense in the body. They filter out harmful substances so that they cannot enter into the bloodstream. A person with gluten intolerance has lost this protection. Because of their “leaky gut”, these gluten proteins fall between the villi and right into the blood stream. The body’s immune system, recognizing it as harmful foreign matter, reacts to it. The result can be a mild nauseated feeling or bloating, or severe gastric pain and bloating.
Here are a number of symptoms associated with gluten intolerance: osteoporosis, delayed puberty, arthritis, weak tooth enamel, dermatitis (chronic skin rashes), short stature, anemia, hepatitis, epilepsy, and severe stomach problems.
The treatment for gluten intolerance is somewhat obvious: stay away from gluten products. There is a test called Zonulin that shows promise in identifying gluten intolerance and sensitivity.
Gluten intolerance may take years before it manifests itself. If you suspect you have problems with gluten, check with your doctor, or just try going gluten free for 2-4 weeks to see if your symptoms improve.