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To Be Gluten Free, Or Not To Be

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Being gluten free in 2017 has become relatively easy (and quite trendy).  Many restaurants now offer gluten free menus or otherwise note which menu items are gluten free; so I often get asked, “What’s the deal with gluten?  Should I be gluten free?  Does it matter?”

What is gluten?

Gluten is a mix of proteins most notably found in wheat, rye and barley. It is also prevalent in hybrid grains such as spelt, kamut and tritcale.

When most people think of gluten, they usually think of bread, pasta, and cereal.   However, gluten is found in pretty much anything that is processed.  It’s also prevalent in soups, sauces, salad dressings, malt, food coloring, beer (there are exceptions), and brewers yeast.


What’s The big Deal: Gluten, Inflammation, and Your Gut

First and foremost, gluten causes inflammation, specifically in your gut.  Why does this matter?  In general, inflammation is your immune system’s response to injury or sickness. If you were to fall and scrape your knee, the area around the scrape becomes tender, sensitive, and reddish; that’s inflammation.

Gut inflammation is what we’re concerned with when we talk about gluten because inflammation in the gut brings about intestinal permeability also known as “leaky gut.”

Many consider the gut to be our second brain.  Don’t believe me? Ever get that feeling of “butterflies in your stomach?”  That’s but one example of your gut functioning as the second brain!

Michael Gershon, chairman of the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at New York–Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center explains why:  “Technically known as the enteric nervous system, the second brain consists of sheaths of neurons embedded in the walls of the long tube of our gut, or alimentary canal, which measures about nine meters end to end from the esophagus to the anus. The second brain contains some 100 million neurons, more than in either the spinal cord or the peripheral nervous system.  This multitude of neurons in the enteric nervous system enables us to “feel” the inner world of our gut and its contents.  Thus equipped with its own reflexes and senses, the second brain can control gut behavior independently of the brain.”

According to Emeran Mayer, professor of physiology, psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles (U.C.L.A.) the gut is way too complicated to have evolved only to make sure things move out of your colon.  For example, about 90 percent of the fibers in the primary visceral nerve, the vagus, carry information from the gut to the brain and not the other way around.  The second brain informs our state of mind in other more obscure ways, as well.  “A big part of our emotions are probably influenced by the nerves in our gut,” Mayer says.  Butterflies in the stomach—signaling in the gut as part of our physiological stress response, Gershon says—is but one example.  (From, Think Twice: How The Gut’s “Second Brain” Influences Mood and Well Being)

Leaky gut?  WTF?

The gut has a very complex wall or security force (like a gate keeper) that allows digested food to enter your blood stream; this is how you get nutrients from your food, while keeping all the bad stuff out.

Everyday you swallow stuff that should not be in your blood stream such as dust, millions of random bacteria and viruses and the wall of your gut is what stops that stuff from entering the blood stream by forcing them out the other end.

Inflammation in the gut loosens the strength of your gut wall and allows those things that should not be in your blood stream to leak through which then creates all sorts of problems for your body, most notably autoimmune deficiencies.

You have to protect the good bacteria hanging out in your gut.  This good bacteria helps regulate your immune system, send hunger signals to your brain, digest food, synthesize nutrients and control the gut wall.  The importance of this bacteria is why people take pro-biotics.

Should I Be Gluten Free?

In my opinion, yes! It’s no longer difficult to do and the benefits of being gluten free far outweigh consuming gluten.

If you have unexplained skin rashes or eczema like conditions, bumps on the back of your arms, irritable bowl syndrome, depression, ADHD, anxiety, brain fog, autoimmune disease, low immunity, dental issues, joint aches, hormonal imbalance, or adrenal fatigue, then you may have a gluten sensitivity or intolerance, and you should consider eliminating gluten from your diet.

I always suggest going gluten free for 45 days.  Take note of the difference in how you feel and look (gluten can cause bloat).  Then reintroduce it and see what happens!