Gluten is a water soluble protein, present mainly in wheat, but also in cereal grains. Gluten is what occurs when two separate proteins – gliadin and glutenin – found in the wheat endosperm, come together and join a bond. It is also what is responsible for giving bread its elastic-like texture, and what helps bread to rise.

So, why is gluten – something that comprises 80% of the protein found within grain products – such a controversial food ingredient?

Books such as “Wheat Belly“, written by William Davis in 2011 vilify gluten as being a wholly unhealthy and completely unnecessary component of your diet. Davis goes as far as stating that gluten contributes to everything from schizophrenia to asthma.

Davis goes on to say that the wheat that people are consuming today is not the same wheat that was on our dining room tables even as recent as fifty years ago. He states that the wheat of the present day is “a product of genetic research”.

Thanks to books like “Wheat Belly”, gluten-free diets are becoming more and more prevalent; so much so, that according to an article published in New York Magazine, there is an expo that travels around the U.S. displaying gluten-free wares.

 

The following is a list of ten reasons why gluten is considered bad for your health:

 1. Gluten Causes Inflammation 

Girl with stomach ache sitting on bed

Gut inflammation is caused any time you ingest something that irritates your digestive tract. Inflammation is dangerous anywhere it occurs in the body; when it occurs in your gut, or in your digestive tract, it results in a lack of nutrient absorption and consequently can cause fatigue, anemia, etc.

Gluten can cause digestive discomforts even in people who do not have celiac disease.

One study, conducted by Jessica R. Biesiekierski et al, that was published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, discovered just that. In the double-blind, randomized trial, 68%  of the subjects in the gluten group reported as having digestive discomforts despite their not having celiac disease.

Key Point: inflammation within your body is extremely dangerous, and can result in many chronic diseases. Eliminating gluten from your diet, even if you do not have celiac disease, can help prevent such inflammation.

 

2. Celiac Disease 

Gluten word

Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune digestive disease, characterised by digestive discomforts caused by the small intestines inability to break down and process the gluten protein. Being a genetic autoimmune disease, means that celiac disease is not something you can just develop – you are either born with the genetic predisposition for the disease or you are not.

According to the previously referenced New York Times article, only 1 % of the population has celiac disease; it is actually more common for people to be gluten intolerant.

Celiac disease can also present differently depending on the subject’s age, and the subject’s sex, according to a study published in Cereal Foods World. That same study goes on to state that the only way to effectively eliminate celiac symptoms is to remove all gluten from your diet.

Symptoms of celiac disease may present themselves as:

  • anemia: a lack of red blood cells within your blood, causing fatigue and pallor

  • excessive bleeding

  • excessive bruising

  • diarrhea

  • edema: swelling of the tissues, often in the ankles, caused by fluid retention

  • bloating

  • gassiness

If left untreated, WebMD states that celiac disease can ultimately lead to osteoporosis, iron deficiency, and – more seriously – cancer. 

Key Point: if you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, currently the only way to alleviate symptoms and to start repairing your digestive tract is by eliminating all gluten from your diet.

 

3. Gluten Intolerance 

tired manager at work

Gluten intolerance, also known as non-celiac gluten sensitivity, is likely one of the more common complaints you will have heard associated with gluten in foods.

There was a time when intolerance to gluten was not a viable diagnosis – if you did not have celiac disease; gluten was ruled out as the possible irritant to your digestive system.

A study conducted by Antonio Carroccio, however, proved that this was simply not the case.

Gluten intolerance is, in fact, a legitimate medical diagnosis; it falls into one of two groups: those whose intolerance presents itself similarly to celiac disease, and those whose intolerance presents itself similarly to a food allergy.

Not only is gluten intolerance a real diagnosis, but the rates at which people are being affected are on the rise. A study conducted by Alberto Rubio-Tapia et al, published in April of 2009, demonstrated the increasing prevelance of gluten sensitivity and celiac disease.

The rates of diagnosis have increased from one in every 650 people, to one in every 120 people.

Gluten sensitivity can present itself similarly to celiac disease, but may also present itself similarly to a food allergy. Symptoms of gluten intolerance are varied and, like celiac disease, may present as:

  • chronic fatigue

  • headache

  • bone and joint pain

  • depression

  • abdominal pains

  • constipation

  • diarrhea

  • bloating

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder-like behaviors

Mike of Nutrition Secrets has published a detailed article about the symptoms of gluten intolerance

Key Point: even if you test negative for celiac disease, gluten intolerance can still be the cause of your digestive discomforts.

 

4. Patients With Brain Disorders See Improvements On Gluten-Free Diets 

 Gluten free

While gluten itself is not the cause of brain disorders, removing any gluten from your diet may help to improve your symptoms.

As discussed in our previous article “Top 16 Unhealthy Foods to Avoid“, multiple studies have been conducted demonstrating the improvement for subjects suffering from schizophrenia, epilepsy, and autism when they eliminate gluten from their diets.

Schizophrenia is a biochemical brain disorder that is most often characterised as a failure to recognize what is reality, and what is not.

One study conducted by F. C. Dohan that was published in The British Journal of Psychiatry demonstrated that with relapsed schizophrenics, they improved more rapidly when they maintained a gluten free diet.

People who suffer from epilepsy – a neurological condition classified by the occurrence of epileptic seizures – also demonstrate symptom improvements when keeping a diet free from gluten.

A research paper published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry provided evidence that gluten sensitivity should be considered a potential mechanism that leads to epilepsy.

A study conducted on subjects with autism – a condition characterised by difficulty in forming relationships and communicating – also concluded similarly: subjects who eliminated gluten from their diets showed great symptom improvements in comparison to subjects who did not eliminate gluten from their diets.

Key Point: though gluten is not a contributing cause to any of the above-mentioned brain disorders, maintaining a gluten-free diet can significantly decrease problematic symptoms.

 

5. Gluten Can Cause Depression 

Portrait of a sad woman

A randomised, clinical trial was conducted by S. L. Peters et al for the Department of Gastroenterology at Monash University.

When the study was published in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics in May of 2004, it concluded that even short term exposure to gluten induced feelings of depression amongst the study’s subjects. 

 

6. Gluten Can Cause Decreased Fertility 

sad young woman holding pregnancy test

Gluten has also been linked to fertility problems. One study conducted by G. F. Meloni et al recommends that a screening for celiac disease be conducted on women who are infertile, because gluten can lessen a woman’s ability to ovulate. According to the same study, gluten can also been linked to a decrease in couple fertility.

Furthermore, celiac disease – and therefore gluten – has been linked to low birth weight, increased risk of spontaneous abortion, and a shorter breast feeding period.

A study conducted at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital demonstrated recurrent rate of spontaneous abortion (RSAB) is four times higher in women who have celiac disease than in women who do not.

Although the reason for this difference is not exactly known, in a separate study it is suggested that women who have celiac disease and do not adhere to a gluten free diet have much shorter reproductive periods than other women.

Key Point: gluten can lessen a woman’s reproductive periods, lessening their ability to ovulate, and even endangering their ability to carry healthy pregnancies to full term.

 

7. Gluten May Be Addictive 

gluten free cookies

When gluten was broken down in a test tube in a lab, it was discovered that the peptides that form when gluten is broken down can stimulate opioid receptors.

Opioid receptors were first discovered in the mid-1960s, when scientists were studying the effects of opiate drugs on the brain. The pharmacologic studies showed that the opiates repeatedly affected the same specific receptor sites within the brain. These receptor sites are the exact same receptor sites that are affected by the consumption of gluten.

The stimulation of these brain receptors are the reason why some people strongly crave, or even become addicted to foods such as breads and pastas.

The more foods with gluten that you eat, the more your body craves more of them. Consequently, when some people remove gluten from their diet, they can experience withdrawal symptoms. Some reported symptoms are:

  • fatigue

  • irritability

  • feeling cold

  • shakiness and/or trembling

According to Neurological Effects of Gluten Intolerance by Wendy L Cohan, RN, being gluten sensitive can cause neurological and mental health changes. She also states that gluten can cause “the malabsorption of key nutrients necessary for optimum neurological and mental health”.

November, 2010: “Gluten sensitivity can lead to neurological and mental health effects in various ways, including: Triggering inflammatory autoimmune responses throughout the nervous system; Producing narcotizing effects on the brain; Inducing changes in brain perfusion, or blood flow; And, through celiac disease, causing the malabsorption of key nutrients necessary for optimum neurological and mental health.”

There have also been multiple studies conducted on the phenomenon. One study published in the Journal of Life Sciences, and conducted by G. Fanciulli et al proved that consuming gluten stimulates prolactin secretion through your opioid receptors.  

Another comparative study conducted by F. R. Huebner et al further demonstrated the effects of gluten on your opioid receptors, going so far as to examine the relationship between schizophrenia and celiac disease.

Furthermore, a study conducted by M. Takahashi et al, published in the Japanese Journal of Pharmacology demonstrated that not only does gluten affect opioid receptors but it also affects the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system.

Key Point: the same receptors within your brain that are stimulated when opiates are taken, are the same receptors that are stimulated when your body processes and breaks down gluten, causing an addictive behavior towards foods – such as breads and pastas – that contain it.

 

8. Autoimmune Disease 

 Gluten free diet

According to Healthline over fifty million Americans suffer from some form of autoimmune disease, and there are more than eighty different types of autoimmune disease. 

Autoimmune diseases – graves’ disease, multiple sclerosis (M.S.), psoriasis, to name but a few – occur when the antibodies that your body produces to fight off viruses and bacteria, instead begin to attack themselves.

The exact cause of autoimmune diseases is not exactly known, but there have been multiple studies conducted that have proven a correlation between gluten consumption and various autoimmune diseases.

One study, for instance, examined the relationship between multiple sclerosis (M.S.) and gluten sensitivity. While they could not definitively prove the relationship between gluten sensitivity and multiple sclerosis, they were able to determine that the majority of patients studied benefited from a gluten-free diet.

A different study, published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology evaluated the relationship between thyroid disease and celiac disease.

At the close of the study, C. Sategna-Guidetti et al concluded that both thyroid disease and celiac disease share the same immunopathogenic mechanisms; therefore, anyone being screened for one, should also be screened for the other.

 

Key Point: while there have not been any studies that definitively prove that gluten causes other autoimmune diseases; there have been successful studies that demonstrate that eliminating gluten from your diet can, at the least, significantly reduce your symptoms.

 

9. Leaky Gut Syndrome

gluten free bread

Laky gut syndrome, also referred to as intestinal permeability, is considered a ‘grey area’ when it comes to medical diagnostics.

While it is not a definitive diagnosis in and of itself, it is used to classify what happens to your small intestines when they can no longer absorb nutrients.

According to an article published online with the Huffington Post by Amy Meyers, M. D. leaky gut syndrome and celiac disease often go hand-in-hand.

Furthermore, leaky gut syndrome can cause other medical problems, such as:

  • allergies

  • Chron’s disease

  • irritable bowel syndrome

  • weight loss

  • thyroiditis, etc

Key Point: the proteins in gluten – most specifically gliadin – can erode the walls of your small intestine, resulting leaky gut syndrome. This can cause you to lose weight, as well as the development of other, more serious, medical conditions.

 

10. Gluten Causes Weight Gain

obese woman measuring her waist

According to Dr. Mark Hyman, director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, and author of “The Blood Sugar Solution: 10 Day Detox Diet Cookbook” the gluten we are consuming today is not the same gluten of history.

He states the reason behind the change in gluten: genetically modified dwarf wheat. Although this strain of wheat was originally created in order to more effectively feed the hungry people of the world, it also contains higher levels of starch, and what Dr. Hyman refers to as ‘super gluten’.

The new wheat strain contains twenty eight chromosomes – that is twice as many as before. With twice as many chromosomes, the new wheat strain’s gluten proteins are twice as likely to trigger celiac disease.

Consequently, celiac disease results in inflammation of the body, which results in weight gain.

Key Point: the genetic modifications that have been made to wheat in recent years have, instead of making them healthier for human consumption, have actually made them less healthy and more likely to cause weight gain.

Final Thoughts…

While wheat and grain products have historically been a cornerstone of the human diet, the wheat and grain products you are consuming today are not the same products of even fifty years ago.

There have been many studies conducted on the potential dangers of including gluten in your diet; the main consensus seeming to be that it is better to be safe, than sorry.

What do you believe about gluten: do you participate in a gluten-free diet? What changes have you noticed in your body and health since you’ve done so?

Let us know your stories in the comments section below.

 

10 Incredible Reasons Why Gluten Is Bad For You
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