It seems as though a gluten free diet has been the topic of most nutrition conversations of late. There have been many that claim that going gluten free is just the newest fad, and those that say that a gluten free diet is the healthiest way to live your life. These assertions can be incredibly confusing for most people and leave people in a health conscience-induced limbo state. The truth about the gluten free diet is that for some people it can alleviate many symptoms that they live with every day, and for some it has little effect at all. The important task is identifying those people that have gluten sensitivities or celiac disease (a specific immune system reaction to eating gluten) and having them restrict gluten from their diet. These sufferers will likely experience the greatest effect.
To understand a little more about why a gluten free diet would have any effect at all on health, we have to understand what happens to our body when we eat gluten. Gluten is a protein that is found in many different grains that most Americans eat on a regular basis. The main grains that contain gluten include wheat, barley and rye, which are found in most processed foods and almost everything we eat. A lot of naturally “gluten free” grains are also contaminated with gluten because they share similar shipping containers or processing equipment. In some people, when they eat gluten, the protein will damage the part of the intestine that is responsible for absorbing our food. Once this part of the intestine is damaged, the immune response to the damage is to try to fix it. This immune system response creates a less than healthy side effect, called inflammation. The immune system can also attack the gluten protein itself, which will produce even more inflammation in the intestine. This inflammation will often cause symptoms including diarrhea, gas, bloating, headaches, fatigue, constipation, abdominal pain, nausea, and so forth.
Most people who have gluten sensitivities and damage to their intestines eat gluten on a regular basis and will have these symptoms daily. Many are so used to feeling “uncomfortable” that they begin to cope with it. It is often not until they stop eating gluten and their symptoms go away that they realize how good they could feel. Going gluten free for someone with a gluten sensitivity can feel like they are the healthiest they have ever been. When they eat gluten after avoiding it, their symptoms will often return as the acute inflammation flares up in the intestines.
On a scientific level, there are other benefits to going gluten free for those that don’t have these severe reactions to gluten. Grains that contain gluten tend to be high in glycemic index and can raise blood sugar in those that have difficulty controlling their blood sugar. People who decrease their gluten intake also tend to lose weight as well. This is because gluten containing foods contain a lot of carbohydrates and sugar, which can lead to a lot of fat production in the body and make it challenging to lose weight.
Overall, the health benefits of going gluten free can be very different for many people. If you are interesting in learning about whether or not the symptoms you are experiencing may be related to food allergies or a gluten intolerance, call our clinic today to speak with one of our physicians.