Gluten is a type of protein found in grain that is made up of gliadin (what gives bread the ability to rise) and glutenin (what’s responsible for its elasticity). The most common gluten-containing grains are wheat, barley, rye, and triticale, but are also present in oats and other cereal grains unless otherwise verified with a “gluten-free” seal. Derivatives of wheat such as durum, semolina, spelt, and farro also contain gluten. Major food sources include pasta, bread, pastries, crackers, baked goods (cakes, cookies, pie crusts, brownies), cereal and granola (corn flakes, rice puffs), beer (ales, lager, malt beverages, malt liquor), croutons, tortillas, and anything that has wheat flour listed as an ingredient.
So, what’s the problem? Why is the term “gluten-free” such a buzzword these days when it comes to diet-talk? Originally, we believed that individuals with celiac disease were the only ones who should completely avoid wheat and other gluten-containing grains. Celiac disease (CD) is an autoimmune condition that is more likely to occur in individuals who possess certain genetic variants (of the HLA-DQA1 and HLA-DQB1 genes) which play a critical role in the immune system. If gluten is ingested in CD individuals, the body produces antibodies that elicit an immune response that damages the small intestine over time leading to malabsorption of nutrients and nutrient deficiency(1).
However, according to the 2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (a program of studies designed to assess the health and nutritional status of the adults and children in the United States) found the prevalence of celiac disease stayed the same from 2009-2014, but the people with celiac disease avoiding gluten increased almost 3.5 fold (2).
Could this be attributed to modern diet culture pinning a gluten-free diet as healthier? Gluten-free foods are now easily accessible in conventional grocery stores with increased inventory and diversity of gluten-free food products2. This increase in gluten-free food products mirrors the increased demand for gluten-free options.
Perhaps this uptick in people adopting a gluten-free diet is due to an increased incidence of non-celiac gluten sensitivity, a clinically undetectable condition where immune cells in the gut recognize gluten as harmful and react to it as if it were an invading virus or bacteria.
Since the gut contains 70-80% of our immune system, frequent exposure to gluten in sensitive individuals can result in inflammation and compromised integrity of intestinal cells that line the gastrointestinal tract. This results in “leaky gut”, a clinical phenomenon indicated by the intestines becoming porous, allowing food particles and bacteria to pass from the lumen of the gastrointestinal tract into systemic circulation resulting in an extra-intestinal immune response and chronic, low-grade inflammation manifesting as arthritis, fatigue, autoimmune sequelae, eczema, and even depression.
The research on gluten is ongoing so it is difficult to answer this question directly. From a nutritional standpoint, if an individual doesn’t have CD, is not gluten sensitive, and doesn’t have a wheat allergy then it is not necessary to restrict gluten-containing grains like wheat because it’s a nutritionally sound source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Adopting a gluten-free diet without proper supplementation may lead to nutritional deficiency in vitamins like vitamin B1, B2, B6, folate, and iron since most cereal grains are fortified with these (3).
If you’re curious how your body responds to gluten you can try eliminating wheat products for a week or more and monitoring any changes in behavior, mood, or energy levels. If you want more advice on how to improve your mood using nutrition call Fx Med Centers at 855-MYFXMED (693-9633).
If nutrition alone is not helping you deal with distressing emotions don’t be afraid to seek out therapy. For more info regarding therapy please contact Specialized Therapy Associates at (201)-488-6678 to make an appointment.
- Fasano, A., Berti, I., Gerarduzzi, T., Not, T., Colletti, R. B., Drago, S., … Horvath, K. (2003). Prevalence of celiac disease in at-risk and not-at-risk groups in the United States: a large multicenter study. Archives Of Internal Medicine, 163(3), 286–292. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.uws.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mdc&AN=12578508&site=eds-live&scope=site
- Kim, H.-S., Patel, K. G., Orosz, E., Kothari, N., Demyen, M. F., Pyrsopoulos, N., & Ahlawat, S. K. (2016). Time Trends in the Prevalence of Celiac Disease and Gluten-Free Diet in the US Population: Results From the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys 2009-2014. JAMA Internal Medicine, 176(11), 1716–1717. https://doi-org.uws.idm.oclc.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.5254. Retrieved from: https://uws.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mdc&AN=27598396&site=eds-live&scope=site
- Martin, J., Geisel, T., Maresch, C., Krieger, K., & Stein, J. (2013). Inadequate nutrient intake in patients with celiac disease: results from a German dietary survey. Digestion, 87(4), 240–246. https://doi-org.uws.idm.oclc.org/10.1159/000348850. Retrieved from: https://uws.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=mdc&AN=23751356&site=eds-live&scope=site