Have you been feeling “blue” lately? Maybe a little more irritable than usual? And forgetful?
Have your joints and muscles been aching and crampy? And do you feel bloated and gassy — especially after eating?
Chances are you’re secretly suffering from the newest medical complaint making the rounds these days: A pesky and potentially dangerous allergy to wheat.
Are you secretly sensitive to gluten?
Gluten is the protein in wheat, rye and barley that can trigger an inflammatory immune response in the human body. This can cause diarrhea, hives, congestion, nausea, abdominal pain, bloating and gas, depression, vertigo, irritability, joint pain, mouth sores, muscle cramps, skin rash, nerve pain, and neurological damage. (Whew!)
But gluten intolerance (also called gluten sensitivity) is no joking matter to those who suffer from it.
And celiac disease, which is a more severe reaction to gluten, makes gluten intolerance look like a walk in the park.
Celiac disease causes the body’s immune system to attack its own tissue. Gluten triggers antibodies that flatten the intestinal villi and cause immediate cramping, bloating, and diarrhea. These antibodies also “eat” tiny holes in the intestinal walls, thus preventing the absorption of essential nutrients and minerals, which leads to a host of serious ailments, including malnutrition and osteoporosis. It also heightens your risk of cancer.
Gluten sensitivity is a sneaky disorder
If you have celiac disease (which afflicts about 1% of the US population), you really know it because the symptoms are usually so severe that they can’t be ignored.
Gluten sensitivity is much sneakier. But there’s a very easy way to tell if you have it. (I’ll describe it in a moment.)
Both conditions also seem to be spreading — and doctors can’t figure out why.
According to recent estimates, gluten sensitivity affects between 6% and 15% of the US population and is becoming increasingly common in children.
Why is it rearing its ugly head now?
Even though we’re becoming more aware of gluten sensitivity these days, it really isn’t a “new” problem. Medical textbooks diagnosed it as early as 1888 and it’s been described as “one of the most common human diseases.”
Wheat has been a mainstay of the human diet for thousands of years. It’s also been a dominant presence within the food pyramid. So why, you might wonder, are we seeing so much more gluten sensitivity now?
One big reason is that there’s more wheat in our diet than ever before.
“You have to remember that Stone Age man didn’t eat wheat,” Dr. Nick Avery of the Center for the Study of Complementary Medicine said in The Independent. “It was introduced only 10,000 years ago with the cultivation of crops. This is relatively recent compared to the diet of millions of years ago, for which our bodies are better adapted — nuts, berries, fruits. We overdose on wheat and end up eating it for breakfast, lunch and dinner — toast, sandwiches, a pizza. It’s too much.”
This isn’t your grandpa’s wheat
Another reason for the rise of gluten-sensitivity may lie in the nature of modern wheat. Today’s conventionally-grown wheat berries are doused with fungicides and herbicides before they’re even planted.
Once these seeds become plants, they’re blasted with another round of fungicides and herbicides, as well as insecticides, such as disulfoton (Di-syston), methyl parathion, chlorpyrifos, dimethoate, diamba and glyphosate.
In addition to being linked to neurotoxic diseases and cancer, these pesticides can disrupt our body’s hormone balance. Men, women and children can all find their bodies jacked by these xenoestrogens, which cause “man boobs,” hormone-related cancers and even early-onset puberty. “Plant growth regulators,” (aka synthetic plant hormones) also are applied.
Once harvested, the wheat is stored in collection bins sprayed with insecticide, and as the bins are filled up, more insecticide is added. When the bins are full, still more insecticide is added, four inches deep into the grain.
If any insects are found, the wheat is fumigated. And then, of course, it’s “processed” to separate the endosperm from the bran and the germ. This refining produces the most nutrient-depleted portion of the wheat as good ole white flour, which spikes your blood sugar … triggers carbohydrate cravings … and leads to diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
If you aren’t gluten-sensitive, your safest strategy is to ditch any conventional wheat-containing products. If it’s not truly organic and non-GMO, avoid it entirely. Choose organic Ezekiel sprouted bread or organic whole grain bread (and don’t fall for “the whole wheat hoax”).
How to tell if you’re a gluten victim:
Wondering if gluten is harming your health? One way to tell is by eliminating wheat and gluten-containing foods from your diet for several weeks, and recording how you feel on a daily basis.
Begin a journal prior to the elimination. Then, cut out wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut and triticale. (You can substitute “safe” grains such as buckwheat, amaranth, millet, quinoa, brown rice, and teff.)
IMPORTANT: You have to be vigilant and read foods labels carefully. That’s because gluten can be found in lipstick, sunscreen, and even ice cream and French fries, to which gluten has been added for texture enhancement. Even gluten-free foods such as oats are often processed in the same facilities as wheat, and then become cross-contaminated.
Don’t be fooled. Wheat and wheat products often masquerade on food labels as “starch” … “modified starch” … “food starch” … “modified food starch” … “emulsifiers” … and “stabilizers.” Some medications (prescription or over-the-counter) also contain gluten. Visit this website to check if your medicines are included.
The “sure” way to know
The shortcut method is to get tested. Doctors can perform a blood test to see if you have either gluten sensitivity or celiac disease. Testing for the antibodies can be performed in any doctor’s office.
If you turn out to be gluten-sensitive, don’t fret! You have lots of “safe food” options. You don’t have to live your life in a gluten-free jail.
Most of your favorite gluten-containing foods are available in gluten-free versions in your local natural grocery store. Bob’s Red Mill offers delicious gluten-free flours and an extensive line of baking ingredients — and Udi’s line of gluten-free breads have a delicious texture familiar to those who enjoy conventional bread products. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Your best bet is to eat whole, organic, gluten-free foods, avoid fast and processed foods, and link up with gluten-free recipes and reputable brands.
How gluten damages the brain
One of the sinister effects of gluten-sensitivity is how it can damage the brain. When the antibody combines with this protein, it generates inflammatory chemicals called cytokines. These cytokines are detrimental to brain health and function and have been linked to such devastating conditions as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and even autism.
Is there life after wheat?
We’ve been raised to believe that wheat is so essential to human health and nutrition that it’s been referred to as “the staff of life.”
But even if you aren’t gluten-sensitive, you should think twice about consuming wheat — especially in its refined form.
If the only wheat items that cross your lips are organic and truly whole grain, you can skip this part. But for those of you who crave chips, crackers, cake, cookies, pastries, doughnuts, bagels, buns, muffins and bread made of refined wheat flour, then you should know that you might as well be eating table sugar by the spoonful.
Sweetened or not, white wheat products hit your bloodstream like cotton candy, spiking your blood sugar. In response, your pancreas pumps out insulin, converts the elevated blood sugar into fatty triglycerides, and stores them as fat.
Foods made from white flour are just as responsible as sugar in sodas for the twin epidemics of obesity and diabetes (often called “diabesity”). So step away from the English muffin!
Dialing down your fast carb intake will allow you to fill the vacuum with fresh, colorful organic vegetables and fruits — as well as quality protein from raw nuts, omega-3 eggs, grass-fed beef and wild-caught Pacific salmon. Other healthful, healing foods include organic dairy products, pasture-raised eggs, and healthy fats such as extra-virgin olive oil and butter.
But you don’t have to abandon bread entirely. There are plenty of whole grain breads you can trust. And true whole grains, such as fiber-rich amaranth, quinoa, and brown rice pilafs are healthful options that will keep your blood sugar steady and your body ticking along with a steady, crash-free source of energy. When you shield your body from “wheat burnout” you’ll notice how much better you feel.
I’d love to hear from you about this
Are you gluten sensitive, or do you have celiac disease? How are you coping?
Please share your stories, strategies, favorite gluten-free foods and recipes. I’d to share you experience with other readers about what’s working for you, and what isn’t.
If you’re newly diagnosed, or just want to eliminate wheat from your diet to see if it improves your health, please share any requests for help and tips here. I’d love to assist you on your journey. Just enter your comments below.
P.S. Novak Djokovic’s gluten-free switch
Those of you following this year’s US Open are well aware of Novak Djokovic’s sudden improvement and leap into the spotlight as the number one tennis player on the men’s tour.
The 24-year-old Serbian has been a good player for several years — but this season has been exceptional. So far he has only lost only two matches out of 63 and is on track to have the winningest year in the history of men’s tennis.
What made the difference between the old Djokovic and the new one?
Few people know that in the off-season last year, Novak discovered he was gluten-sensitive and switched to a gluten-free diet.
Now instead of fading in the long five set match, he’s finishing strong — and beating everyone in his path.