These days, everywhere you look, there seem to be gluten-free versions of every product on the market. You can buy gluten-free pizza, gluten-free pasta, and most stores have an entire aisle dedicated to gluten-free foods.
The rise of these gluten-free products is designed to cater to the 1% of the population that officially has Celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that occurs when some people eat gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.
However, even if you haven’t been officially diagnosed with Celiac disease, the ubiquitous nature of these products may have you wondering if it’s healthier for everyone to avoid gluten or if they’re just a marketing ploy.
Dr. Kelsie Lazzell, DC, ND, a chiropractor and naturopathic practitioner at the Center for Holistic Medicine, says embracing a gluten-free lifestyle can be beneficial for everyone – whether or not you have officially been diagnosed with Celiac disease.
“Gluten intake has been shown to release a protein from our gut lining called Zonulin, which directly stimulates something called Leaky Gut Syndrome. This is when the lining of our intestine becomes so loose that its contents can then be leaked into the blood stream and cause a wide-spread inflammatory reaction,” Lazzell says.
Lazzell says the reason this has become so common in the United States is because of the way our wheat is commercially produced. “A large reason for this happening more in the United States compared to other countries is the overuse of genetic modification and pesticides on our wheat, which has essentially turned it into an unrecognizable DNA structure to our bodies. For this reason, many people can react more harshly to gluten, which contributes to autoimmune reactions like Hashimoto’s or Celiac disease,” she explains.
According to BeyondCeliac.org, 1 in 133 Americans has Celiac disease, but it is estimated that up to 83% of Americans who have Celiac disease are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other conditions.
The most common symptoms of Celiac disease are diarrhea, fatigue, headaches, brain fog, depression, constipation, infertility, irritability and more — all things which can easily be chalked up to stress or missed altogether. Plus, some people may not have full-blown Celiac disease, but may have a sensitivity to gluten that also causes some of the same issues.
Lazzell says gluten can often be the culprit when it comes to mental health issues, especially in children.
“As someone who works with a lot of children and young adults with behavioral disorders, one of the first lines of treatment is removing all formed of gluten from the diet,” Lazzell says. “Gluten can have a very simulating effect on your nervous system and this stimulation can be felt as anxiety, sensory processing issues, trouble focusing, excitability, and many more. By removing this offending food and removing a main source of inflammation to their gut lining, we begin to see symptoms improve. Gut health and mental/emotional health go hand-in-hand.”
If you are looking to remove gluten from your diet, try substituting corn, rice and potatoes and quinoa for sources of starch other than wheat. For example, you can eat corn tortilla chips instead of pretzels or substitute brown rice flour or almond flour for regular flour when baking at home. When eating out, avoid eating anything deep fried, such as fried chicken or fried shrimp, which are often battered in flour before being fried, and order grilled versions instead.
And if you’re curious about whether any of your symptoms may be caused by a gluten intolerance or Celiac disease, come into our office to get tested. Make an appointment with Dr. Kelsie Lazzell today to find out more about gluten sensitivity or to get tested.