When my son was diagnosed with autism in 2003, we heard the term “gluten” for the first time. When trying to go gluten free, it was very hard to find substitutes and even harder to bake. Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately), these days gluten is as common of a term as corn and rice, and it is so much easier to find really good recipes and pre-made goods in the stores and restaurants.
But what is all the hub-bub around gluten? Why are so many people trying to avoid it? In some cases, people actually have allergies or an autoimmune condition called Celiac disease, in which gluten makes them very ill. Others simply have a sensitivity or intolerance to gluten. The latter is more common, so that is what will be focused on here.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a type of protein that is found in a variety of different grains. Many people think about wheat as being gluten, but it can also be found in rye, oats, and barley. The gluten protein is made up of other proteins, including gluten in and gliadin. These are often more closely linked to people that have negative reactions in the form of a gluten allergy or Celiac disease, which is an autoimmune condition of the small intestine. Gluten ataxia is another autoimmune condition where gluten affects the cerebellum, causing problems with gait and gross motor skills, sometimes appearing drunk. The thyroid is another common target for gluten.
Peptides from gluten (and casein from dairy) can also cross through a leaky gut, pass through the Blood Brain Barrier, and attach to opioid receptors, making it pretty addictive, which happens a lot with our kids on the spectrum.
Common Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance
When you have an intolerance to gluten, your symptoms can range from mild discomfort and abdominal pain, to some of the more common signs of being allergic to gluten. First of all, you might find that you have abdominal discomfort or indigestion when you consume foods with a lot of wheat or rye. There are actually many regular food items that contain wheat or other grains, that you would otherwise think are harmless. You may eat a simple sandwich with wheat bread and suddenly find that your stomach is hurting and you might even have diarrhea or nausea. Some other common symptoms include headaches, skin changes, and allergy symptoms like coughing, sneezing, and runny nose.
If you are found to have a gluten sensitivity, you don’t have to completely give up all gluten, but you do need to decrease it as much as possible. The more foods you eat with gluten, the worse you are going to end up feeling. They might not cause serious illness like if you had Celia disease, but gluten can definitely make you feel ill. If you want those stomach aches and migraines to go away, stay away from foods with wheat, rye, or barley. This includes most breads, grains, pasta, and a wide range of packaged and processed foods. You should try to stick to a diet consisting primarily of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein like meat.
How to find out if you have a gluten sensitivity
A sensitivity is not like an allergy. Different antibodies are responding. IgG antibodies are tested for sensitivities, whereas IgE antibodies are tested for allergies. Whereas allergic responses are pretty immediate and often severe, it can take up to 72 hours for symptoms to emerge with sensitivities. However, if you are constantly consuming gluten, like 99% of everyone else, then those symptoms may simply be persistent and chronic. Here are a few ways to test to see if you have gluten sensitivity:
- Elimination diet. This requires that you remove all forms of gluten, which can be very difficult since much of it is hidden. Also, unlike other foods which can clear the system in 10 days, gluten can take 3-6 months to fully clear.
- IgG antibody testing: This requires either a blood draw or finger prick test and are only done in specialized labs, since conventional western medical facilities do not offer such tests. Please reach out to me if you are interested in this kind of testing.
- Electrodermal testing. This is done by individuals who have purchased a special machine, such as a natropath. A metal probe is put at different points on the fingers to detect energetically if a food is causing stress in the body. I have had this done, as well as my kids, a couple times and is quiet effective. Finding a practitioner might be difficult.
- Applied Kinesiology. Using a variety of muscle testing techniques, one can determine easily, and non-invasively, which foods and supplements may be causing stress or increasing strength in the body. It shouldn’t be difficult to find a practioner close to you, but if you are interested in learning this technique for yourself, you can check out my muscle testing tutorial.