Gluten Free Diet as Primary Prevention for Autoimmune Disease
Jean Macary, APRN, ANP-BC, Nurse Practitioner
Gluten free diet has become all the rage over the last several decades, as people become more educated about our less than healthy food supply and seek out measures to improve quality of life. The gluten we are now consuming, is not the gluten that our bodies evolved with, and thus has the potential to trigger an abnormal immune response, increasing our risk for generalized inflammation and eventual autoimmune illness.
What exactly is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in many grains, such as wheat, rye, barley, and spelt. It’s made up of two proteins called gliadin and glutenin. Humans have eaten these grains for centuries, which offered great nutritional value and sustenance in years past. However, the invention of the modern steel roller mill in the 1870’s replaced the old stone grinding method and changed the way grains were processed. Although the new method was fast, efficient, more cost-effective, and grains stored for longer periods of time, the process stripped the grains of many vital nutrients.
To make matters worse, in the 1950's and 60's a movement called “the green revolution,“ started by Norman Borlaug, industrialized this process even further in an effort to increase grain production and feed our growing and hungry population. Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, credited for saving 1 billion lives through the modernization of irrigation systems, hybridization of seeds, and addition of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. But looking back, this may not have been such a good thing as these processes made the grains even less nutritious and toxic to the human body. These were no longer the seeds and grains that the human body could recognize, and they continue to be culprits in many chronic digestive, inflammatory and autoimmune illnesses. The incidence of celiac disease, an autoimmune illness related to gluten, has increased exponentially over the last 50 years, largely due to the industrialization of agriculture.
How does gluten negatively impact our health?
Since our bodies don’t recognize the modern form of gluten, they aren’t equipped to digest this protein completely. In many people, the immune system is triggered to attack the gluten molecule, causing inflammation in the intestines (where 70% of our immune system resides) as well as other organs and tissues throughout the body. This can result in not only gastrointestinal symptoms such as gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and acid indigestion, but in malabsorption of vital nutrients and many other health problems as well…anemia, weight loss, infertility, miscarriage, osteoporosis, skin lesions and rashes, joint pain/inflammation, headache, fibromyalgia, anxiety and depression to name a few.
This is why, if you present our office with any concerning or chronic symptoms, gluten free diet is one of the first things we will recommend in your functional treatment plan, while we’re pursuing advanced diagnostic testing and in-depth history taking to get to the root cause of your problem. Hope to see you soon!