by Dr. Isabel Sharkar
The Latin word for “glue” is gluten, a substance found in numerous grains. Although gluten is found in most grains, including rice, the form of gluten associated with the most adverse health issues is found particularly in wheat (spelt, kamut, durum, semolina, triticale, rye and barley). Gluten is made up of hundreds of peptides but because only one is tested for, you may still have undiagnosed underlying gluten-sensitivity.
In retrospect, gluten is a very new inclusion to the diet, differing from our original hunter-gatherer diet, and is essentially impossible for us to digest. Problems with gluten are becoming an epidemic and public awareness about this issue is poorly understood by most. Cancer, heart disease and autoimmunity—the consequences of gluten-exposure are very real. Gluten may be the silent root cause of many physical and mental health challenges. The presence of exorphins (morphine-like compounds) in grains make gluten—containing grains addictive for large numbers of people.
The prefrontal cortex, our brain’s executive function control center, is the part of our brain that allows us to focus, manage emotional stress, plan, organize and exercise our short-term memory. Exposure to gluten in a sensitive individual essentially shuts down blood flow to the prefrontal cortex. It’s likely you have heard about leaky-gut but have you heard about leaky brain? The damage and neurodegeneration this can cause over time, together with sympathetic fight or flight nervous system hyperarousal can be significant.
Gluten is the gateway food sensitivity, which increases zonulin, an enzyme in the body that controls intestinal and blood-brain barrier permeability. Your gut lining is composed of cells that form tight junctions and when you eat aggravating foods like gluten that cause chronic inflammation in the body, these tight junctions start to form spaces where there should be none. This runs havoc on your immune system allowing for other food sensitivities and toxins to enter your bloodstream. A buildup of this chronic inflammation will cause dis-ease. Undigested proteins that slip past these barriers cause additional immunological reactions to other foods. The milk protein, casein, is the most common co-sensitivity and cross-reactive compound with gluten. The immune system can react to anything if gluten consumption persists.
Over the years, wheat has been drastically hybridized and now even genetically modified. Each time wheat is altered, it creates new proteins that are foreign to us. A study published in 2009 in the peer review journal, Gastroenterology compared 10,000 available blood samples from individuals 50 years ago to 10,000 people today and found a 400 percent increase in the incidence of full blown celiac disease (total villous atrophy of the small intestine). Both celiac disease and gluten-sensitivity are autoimmune conditions that create inflammation and negative immune system effects throughout the body. The increased mortality risks associated with both happen to virtually be identical.
We already have enough on our hands to deal with, from processed foods, depleted soils, environmental contaminants and pesticide use to increasing heavy metal contamination, fluoride, radiation exposure and EMF. Let’s avoid adding gluten to the mix of things that weaken our immune system. Odds are against us and in order to beat the odds we have to eliminate as many culprits as possible as soon as possible. To determine your degree of gluten- sensitivity, ask your naturopathic doctor about the Array 3 panel offered by Cyrex Labs. Cyrex offers by far the most advanced, comprehensive, sensitive and accurate testing of any other lab in the world right now, setting a new gold standard amongst the naturopathic community.
Bottom line is steer clear of gluten, or else you are putting yourself at serious risk of dis-ease.
Dr. Isabel Sharkar, ND, is a licensed naturopathic physician and co-owner of Indigo Integrative Health Clinic, in Georgetown. For more information, call 202-298-9131