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Gluten is a popular buzzword in the health arena these days. No longer a niche market, gluten free foods have their own sections even in commercial grocery stores.

If you are wondering what all of the hype is about and if it is legit or just another fashionable fad diet or hippie-granola battle cry, read on because this is for you.

If you are eating gluten free sometimes, but aren’t really sure why this post is also for you.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, rye, barley and other grains. Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together. It affects the elasticity of dough, which in turn affects the chewiness of baked products.

The challenge with gluten is while it acts like a glue that holds food together, it also acts somewhat like a glue in many people’s intestines, either creating a sticky coating over the fine villi of the small intestine that are responsible for nutrient absorption, or by triggering inflammation that hinders proper digestion.

Special Report: Dangers of “Gluten-Free” Breads (and what to eat instead)

Who does gluten affect?

This is a tricky question to answer. Gluten definitely affects people with Celiac disease (gluten intolerance), an autoimmune disorder where eating gluten leads to inflammation and damage in the small intestine, making it harder for the body to absorb nutrients. This condition can be medically tested and affects approximately 1 out of every 100 people in the US.

Then there are many other people who will not test positive for Celiac disease, but definitely experience side effects from eating gluten. These people are gluten sensitive. Unlike celiac disease, gluten sensitivity doesn’t damage the intestine, and there is no accepted medical test for it. Research estimates that 18 million Americans have gluten sensitivity.

Some natural medicine practitioners believe gluten causes problems in all people. They propose it’s more than likely each and every person that eats foods that contain gluten has some kind of reaction to it, even if the reaction is too small to outwardly notice. They believe this means we are all sensitive to gluten in one way or another.

What are symptoms of gluten sensitivity and gluten intolerence?

How do you know if you are sensitive to gluten, gluten intolerant, or will just do better eating foods that are gluten free? Here are some of the common symptoms of gluten intolerance (Celiac) and gluten sensitivity:

Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance:

  • diarrhea
  • stomach upset
  • abdominal pain
  • bloating
  • headaches
  • fatigue

Symptoms of Gluten Sensitivity:

  • diarrhea
  • stomach upset
  • abdominal pain
  • bloating
  • headaches
  • fatigue

The symptoms of gluten intolerance and gluten sensitivity are the same. They are also quite general and could indicate many other conditions as well as, or instead of gluten reactions. With gluten intolerance, the symptoms are often more severe and can lead to malnutrition and weight loss. Left untreated, people with celiac disease can also develop further complications such as other autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, thyroid disease, and cancer.

To compound the confusion, some people with gluten sensitivity have reactions to gluten that are just as severe as someone with Celiacs, while others hardly notice their symptoms, if at all. What a confusing mess! How are you really supposed to know if gluten is causing or contributing to your symptoms?

How do I know if I should be gluten-free?

The only way to decrease the problems that are associated with gluten allergies is to avoid eating those foods that contain gluten. While it may seem hard to do, it’s the only way to prevent health issues that could potentially lead to disease and death. It’s not worth dealing with the pain and the fear of disease and death when simply eliminating certain foods can eliminate the problem.

At the very least, try eliminating gluten from your life for 2-6 weeks and see if your symptoms decrease or even disappear. Many people feel digestive relief and notice they have a flatter tummy when they eliminate gluten. We recommend eliminating gluten from your life (and not just from your food) because gluten is in a surprising number of products. It’s important to read labels and know what to avoid and what you can consume.

Stay tuned for a list of items that commonly contain gluten for you to avoid and a list of “go to foods” in the next post!

Special Report: Dangers of “Gluten-Free” Breads (and what to eat instead)

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brain_fog

Despite a mountain of evidence demonstrating the negative health effects of gluten, the debate continues.

For some time, “pro-gluten” health researchers would only concede that gluten impairs gut functioning in a small percentage of people.

But a proliferation of recent studies shows an undeniable connection between gut health and brain health.[1]

Given this “gut-brain connection,” even the most reticent researchers are singing a different tune: gluten impairs cognitive functioning.

Connections are even being drawn between the consumption of gluten and the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. At the very least, it’s clear that minimizing or eliminating your intake of gluten reduces the risk of cognitive decline.

But how and why is gluten so destructive to the brain?

Gluten inhibits immune functioning, accelerates the propagation of diseases, interrupts metabolism, and hijacks your bio-chemical relationship with food—all of which leads to major brain strain.

Let’s trace the process by which gluten wreaks all this havoc.

It all starts in the gut…

New research demonstrates that the consumption of gluten can cause an immune response in anyone—not just in those with Celiac’s disease and gluten intolerance.[2]

Here’s how it works: your intestinal tract has a thin lining called the epithelium, which prevents undigested material from slipping into the bloodstream. Frequent consumption of gluten triggers a process known as zonulin signaling, which causes the cells in the epithemlium to separate.

When this separation occurs, bacteria and toxins end up in the bloodstream, and thus triggers an immune response.

An immune response is essentially inflammation—a natural, healthy bodily function when triggered infrequently. When the immune system is constantly on alert, though, its ability to protect the body is suppressed, and a state of systemic inflammation sets in.

For this reason, inflammation has been called the root of all degenerative disease (wherein the body gradually loses its ability to ward off increasingly adverse dysfunction).

Special Report: Dangers of “Gluten-Free” Breads (and what to eat instead)

…and the brain suffers too

When this “leaky gut” condition begins to cause escalating inflammation throughout the body, the brain is affected too.

Systemic inflammation leads to decreased bloodflow in the brain, which leads to the “brain fog” and diminished cognitive performance that’s often associated with gluten.

You could say that, in this way, gluten indirectly affects the brain’s health. Unfortunately, though, gluten also directly affects the brain in pretty scary ways.

A recent study showed that a constituent of gluten—called wheat germ agglutinin—is actually an acute neurotoxin.[3] This toxin is able to cross the blood-brain barrier completely intact and bind to neurons for extended periods of time.

Wheat germ agglutinin is also pro-inflammatory, and thus contributes even further to the systemic inflammation that we discussed above.

What’s worse, gluten also weakens the blood-brain barrier’s ability to keep out other toxins, thus causing a downward spiral of cognitive impairment.

Lastly, the vast majority of commercially produced wheat is overrun with mycotoxins, which place huge amounts of stress on the brain (they also ravage the immune system, cause cancer, and disrupt hormone function). You can read more about wheat mycotoxins here.

How gluten is like heroin

To top things off, another study demonstrates that gluten breakdown products work on opioid receptors in the brain.[4]

This explains why gluten consumption is such a hard habit to kick—it affects the brain in a way that is similar to some of the world’s most addictive substances!

Perhaps the most alarming implication of this finding is that the damaging effects of gluten can be perpetuated by psychological and physiological dependence.

It’s generally a good idea to avoid anything that hijacks our body’s ability to reject it as unhealthful. You’d probably agree that other harmful, addictive substances should be banished from the body. It’s about time we started including gluten in that category.

So are you ready to go gluten-free?

If you need some more convincing, there’s a wealth of information available to you, including Dr. David Perlmutter’s bestseller, Grain Brain.

Hopefully, the information presented has at least led to some eyebrow-raising. Remember, though: there’s no substitute for personal experience.

Try cutting gluten out of your diet, and see how you feel. Experts say that doing so for at least six weeks will yield the most dramatic results, but you’ll feel the difference even by trying a shorter gluten fast.

Studies and statistics can only point us in the right direction. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to apply these principles, in order to determine which of them work best for you.

Special Report: Dangers of “Gluten-Free” Breads (and what to eat instead)

 


References

[1] http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/06/20/gut-brain-connection.aspx

[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16635908

[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19332085

[4] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6099562

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sneaky_toxin_sources

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a world free of manmade toxins? A world in which clean water, pure air, and optimal health is more important than profit margins and short-term schemes?

A world in which everyone holds themselves to the same high standard of accountability? A world in which you can trust that you’re not constantly surrounded by hidden sources of toxins?  

I’d like to think we’re on our way there. Unfortunately, though, that’s just not the way things are at present.

Staying healthy is a full-time job these days—mostly because we always have to be on the lookout for unwitting toxin sources.

Personal care, diet, and fitness obviously play an essential role, but even if you’re playing all your cards right, your health can still suffer considerably because of environmental toxins.

Below, you’ll find a list of unexpected toxin sources to avoid at all costs.

Don’t be overwhelmed; just take action, one step at a time. Start by removing just one toxin source from your life, and build up from there. This process should be empowering, not paranoia-inducing.

Let’s start with the basics…

Processed foods. It’s hard to take three steps in a grocery store without bumping into processed foods. Any product that is even a single step removed from its natural form should be considered processed.

Processed foods are designed to be overstimulating and addictive.[1] Creating such “designer junk foods” destroys nearly all the nutrients its ingredients may have contained. Synthetic vitamins and nutrients are sometimes added after the fact, but these are a poor replacement at best, and toxic at worst.

And to top things off, processed foods are filled with destructive substances like high-fructose corn syrup,[2] preservatives, colorants, artificial flavors, and texturants.

Many chemicals like this that have been deemed “safe” by the FDA in the past were later found to have deleterious effects on the body. The FDA will only ever investigate chemicals that they believe pose a serious danger—so just know that you’re rolling the dice by consuming any of them.

Non-organic produce. Organic products have been all the rage for years now, but because of the high price that they command, it can be tempting to justify the purchase of more affordable, non-organic food.

How bad could it possibly be?

Pretty bad, unfortunately.

Evidence is mounting that the pesticides and other various chemicals that are sprayed on conventional produce are adversely toxic. A widely published study claiming that there is little difference in the healthfulness and safety of organic and non-organic produce is now being harshly criticized and overturned.[3]

And don’t think that you can just wash off these noxious chemicals either—many of them are absorbed by the plant’s internal structures. In the case of GMO foods, toxicity is incorporated into the plant at a genetic level.

Unwashed produce. Even some organic produce is contaminated with pesticides and other toxic chemicals, so be sure to wash everything before eating it.

The most effective method is to submerge your produce completely in room temperature water, and then lightly scrub each item.

Avoiding dietary toxins

This probably isn’t anything you haven’t heard before.

If you’re already avoiding non-organic and processed food, excellent. Here’s some dietary toxin sources with which you may be less familiar, though…

Mycotoxins in wheat and corn. Here’s a shocking statistic of which very few people are aware: a large percentage of the grains available in the U.S. has been exposed to toxic mold (because it’s nearly always stored in commercial silos for long periods of time).[4]

When wheat and corn is exposed to mold, dangerous byproducts called mycotoxins are developed. Even though cooking will normally destroy any mold that’s present, the mycotoxins will remain intact.

Mycotoxins sap your energy, suppress the immune system, interfere with nutrient absorption, and disrupt metabolic and hormonal functioning in the body.[5]

While reducing (or even eliminating) your consumption of wheat and corn can be a difficult task, it’s really the only surefire way to protect yourself from mycotoxins.

And in case you still need some convincing, there’s a whole host of other reasons why you should banish wheat from your diet.

Damaged fats. Fats have gotten a bad rap in the past. Recent dietary fads (like the Paleo Diet) are starting to get the right idea, though—that the right kind of fat is incredibly healthful.

While whole books could be (and have been) written on this subject, here’s the basic gist that you should keep in mind: a fat becomes toxic when it is unstable, and thus becomes damaged and oxidized by the heat of cooking. The fats that are prone to this damage are called unsaturated.

The unsaturated fats that you’ll want to avoid (usually in the form of cooking oils) are as follows: corn oil (which can also contain mycotoxins, as explained above), canola oil, sesame oil, and anything else generically labeled as “vegetable oil.”

Stick with oils that contain lots of saturated fat, like coconut oil, palm oil, butter, and ghee.

Avoiding household toxins

And then there’s the myriad of toxin sources that surround us within our own homes. Here’s some of the biggest offenders, as well as some suggestions for how to neutralize them…

Plasticware. By now, you’re probably aware of the pitfalls of plastic.Even plastic products that are marketed as “non-toxic” are a gamble. Plastic contains many other chemicals besides those that are now considered toxic. Just because a company labels a given chemical as “non-toxic,” it doesn’t mean that future research won’t reveal the contrary.

So play it safe, and use as few plastic products as possible.

If you can’t eliminate plastic entirely, at least minimize your risk by not heating or freezing any plasticware (which accelerates the process of chemical leaching).

Never put plasticware in the dishwasher. Doing so will leach all those nasty chemicals and then redeposit them on all your other dishes!  

Furniture. A staggering percentage of mattresses, couches, and pillows contain flame retardants that have been shown to cause cancer and birth defects.[6]

High levels of these ridiculously toxic chemicals have been detected in people’s blood, which confirms that they easily enter the body when our skin is in contact with these household items, and even when we breathe the dust in our houses.

The process of “detoxifying” your house by replacing all your toxic furniture is certainly a daunting (and expensive) one. Just be aware of these dangers, and take one step at a time to clear your living space.

Start small: at least replace your pillows, then tackle the larger, more expensive pieces of furniture when it’s possible to do so. Isn’t your health worth the time and the cost?

Cleaning supplies. Taking one whiff of most cleaning supplies on the market is enough to confirm that they’re full of toxins. After years of coating our counters and tables, washing our clothes, and “freshening” the air in our house, these toxins accumulate to very dangerous levels.

And don’t believe everything you hear about “green cleaning products” either. Some of the top eco-products on the market still contain chemicals with demonstrable adverse effects.[7]  

Even seemingly inoffensive dryer sheets are bad news. Nearly all of them contain a whole host of terrible chemicals that cause burning skin, respiratory irritation, anxiety attacks, and irritability—like formaldehyde and chloroform, just to name a few that you’ve probably heard of.[8]

So always do your homework before purchasing any cleaning product. Better yet, read this article to learn how to make your own (it’s easy, I promise).

Creating your own sanctuary

Avoiding these toxin sources will have a huge effect on your health.

We may live in a toxin-laden world, but we shouldn’t just sit back and let ourselves be bombarded. Awareness is always the first step. Let the information that’s been presented sink in, and then start to take measures to protect yourself, bit by bit.

 


References  

[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22016109

[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23594708

[3] http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/120-a458

[4] http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/321551/aer828h_1_.pdf

[5] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12857779

[6] http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es303471d

[7] http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/simply-green-washing-are-you-using-toxic-cleaner

[8] http://www.lifenatural.com/dangers_of_laundry_dryer_sheets.htm

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