Day 29: Gluten

Breakfast: BP Coffee
Lunch: Chicken salad for lunch
Dinner: Omelette; salmon; sauerkraut; veg shake

Exercise: Jog to work

Alright, straps yourselves in!

Gluten is a protein found in grains such as wheat, rye, barley and oats. Those grains are part of pasta, bread, cookies, cakes, pastries, muffins, cereal, crackers, tortillas, beer etc. Gluten is also used as a stabilizing agent or thickener in many processed foods, like salad dressings and soup. Even if gluten isn’t deliberately added to a product, it may still be present if the food was made in a factory that processes other foods that contain gluten. Other grains, such as rice and corn, contain similar proteins to gluten, but they are less problematic.

Chemically, gluten is a composite of the proteins gliadin and glutenin. When your meal reaches your intestines, an enzyme called tissue transglutaminase (tTG) breaks down the gluten into those building blocks: gliadin and glutenin. If you aren’t sensitive to gluten, the proteins are absorbed into your bloodstream. If you are sensitive, then your intestines produce antibodies to attack the gliadin. In Celiacs the antibodies attack the tTG too.

Unfortunately, the tTG does more than breakdown gluten. One role it plays is in regulating the function of the villi. These little fingers sticking out from the intestinal wall help to absorb nutrition. If tTG is damaged then the villi become inflamed and your ability to absorb your food deteriorates. Thus Celiac is an autoimmune disease, i.e. your body is attacking itself.

Gluten can also cause the gut cells to release zonulin, a protein that regulates junctions between cells in the intestinal wall. Once these tight junctions widen, your gut becomes “leaky”. Now the gluten, and toxins, and antibodies mentioned in the last post are free to maraud around your body causing damage to other organs and tissues; your skin, your thyroid, even your brain.

This is the beginning of the cascade of nasty outcomes that result from eating gluten. In the next stage, there is a general inflammatory response. The body creates antibodies to attack these foreign proteins. Unfortunately the cells in your gut lining can be targeted too, and they take a further beating. The cascade continues and eventually leads to food intolerances, systemic inflammation, and autoimmunity responses. In terms of named diseases, gluten intolerance/sensitivity is linked to IBS, diabetes, arthritis, depression, and infertility.

You don’t need to be Caliac for some, or all, of that to happen to you. About 0.75% of the population (1 in 133) have Celiac disease. However in one study, 29% of non-celiacs were found to have gluten antibodies. Your body makes antibodies when it senses a threat from an intruder. The only reason that you would have gluten antibodies, is if your body thought that gluten was harmful. So your doctor may not diagnose you as Celiac, but as far as your body is concerned, the gluten should be eliminated.

And that’s why I don’t eat toasted cheese sandwiches, pastries, and cookies anymore. Well, most of the time anyway :)