When eating a gluten-free diet first became a “thing,” it was ridiculed as a fad that would soon fade in popularity.
At the time, the conventional medical folks warned that while about one out of every one hundred people had celiac disease, which is an illness-causing autoimmune response to the gluten proteins in wheat, barley and rye, everybody else could safely eat foods containing gluten.
However, as researchers started examining the proteins in gluten-containing grains they began warning – “Not so fast!”
Because it turns out that about ten out of every hundred people may get sick from these proteins, even if they don’t have celiac disease. Here’s the shocking story and what it means for your diet.
Gluten contains a variety of hundreds of similar but distinct proteins. The proteins included in gluten are what give foods made from wheat, barley and rye their gooey, sticky texture. They help to make rolls, cakes, cookies, pizza crust and pasta chewy and give them that comforting mouth feel when you eat them.
But these proteins aren’t all good.
The Protein Problem
Unfortunately, these proteins also make wheat products resistant to digestion. Many of the gluten proteins aren’t broken up by stomach acid and they pass through the intestines without being dismantled by enzymes. So, if your immune system doesn’t react to them (more about that in a moment), these proteins virtually pass right through you without being absorbed.
But if you have celiac disease, they stimulate your immune system to attack your body. That can result in a long list of health problems, including skin rashes, stomach aches, diarrhea, heart problems, brain fog and destruction of the lining of your intestines that limits your absorption of vitamins and other important nutrients.
However, as I mentioned earlier, even if you don’t have celiac disease, you can still have a reaction to grains and the foods made from them. In these cases, studies show another problematic group of natural compounds called alpha-amylase-tripsin inhibitors (ATIs) can disrupt your health.
Wheat ATIs Can Disrupt the Immune System
ATIs are used by plants to fend off insects and fungi. Just like gluten, ATIs can trigger inflammation in your immune system that results in immune cells attacking the body’s own organs. In some cases, say researchers, inflammation that has been blamed on gluten may actually be caused by ATIs – because the gluten used in many lab tests the last few years has been unknowingly contaminated with ATIs.1
The reaction to grains that isn’t set off by celiac disease is often called non-celiac wheat sensitivity (NCWS), or, even though it may not be linked to gluten, non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS).
Studies show that this type of wheat senstivity may lead to a number of health challenges for 30 million Americans that start with:
- Causing leaky gut: A wide range of studies show that the proteins in wheat can harm the walls of the digestive tract so that they “leak” substances into the body that then cause inflammation.2 As part of this process, a few researchers believe the proteins alter the probiotic bacteria in the intestines so that they fail to keep the intestinal lining intact.
- Making chronic health problems worse: Research in Germany demonstrates that the ATIs in wheat may cause conditions like multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, lupus, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and inflammatory bowel disease to get more painful and destructive. The scientists add that they can also cause inflammation in the lymph nodes, kidneys, spleen and brain.3
So, the evidence is clear: If you find yourself suffering from a health problem like fatigue, brain fog, stomach aches or painful joints that your healthcare provider can’t explain—or even if they can— grains like wheat, barley and rye may be at the root of your problem.
Plus, if you have a chronic health problem like multiple sclerosis, these grains might also be making it worse.
It’s worth trying grain-free meals for a few weeks to see if this simple change eases your health issues. And if that kind of diet works for you, you may find yourself enjoying the best health of your life!