The Notorious Gluten Protein
“Gluten-Free” labels are popping up everywhere. Popular grocery products, TV talk shows, books, TV commercials, and even articles in The Wall Street Journal are bringing awareness to this notorious protein. Some individuals may still feel left in the dark, wondering what is gluten? Others may be wondering how and why should I start a gluten-free diet?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and any derivative of wheat. A gluten-free diet is not a fad; for most individuals it is a necessary lifestyle change for optimal health. Individuals suffering from celiac disease, an inherited autoimmune disorder, need to follow a strict gluten-free diet; otherwise serious health consequences may occur. Individuals with gluten intolerance also need to follow a gluten-free diet in order to keep unwanted symptoms at bay. Others may just feel healthier eating gluten-free foods.
With gluten intolerance and/or celiac disease, our bodies begin to attack foods that once were considered safe to ingest. Some researchers believe that our intestines become “leaky”, having small amounts of proteins penetrate a damaged intestinal lining, therefore eventually causing an immune reaction when the same food is reintroduced. Other research teams believe that the wheat protein has been genetically modified to the point that our bodies no longer recognize it, leaving the undigested proteins lingering in our intestines to cause inflammatory reactions.
In the case of celiac disease, the small intestine lining has been destroyed by gluten and the fingerlike projections called villi are flattened and no longer able to properly absorb nutrients. This nutrient imbalance can cause a vast array of symptoms to develop. The symptoms can vary greatly from one individual to another. That is why celiac disease has been so difficult to diagnose. Research shows that approximately 1 in every 133 Americans have celiac disease. Approximately 3 million Americans have it, but only 90,000 have been diagnosed. This leads to a vast number of undiagnosed people in this country.