While gluten intolerance has always been present in a small percentage of the population, the occurrence is rapidly growing. Recent research points to modern industrial farming practices, wheat hybridization, and a change in the actual molecular structure of the wheat strain used in most modern wheat products. While the jury is still out, staying up to date on the debate over gluten may help you avoid gluten related symptoms, and the long term health complications associated with gluten intolerance.
What is Gluten Intolerance?
An intolerance to gluten can range from mild sensitivity, to a complete intolerance (warranting the diagnosis of Celiacs disease.) In the latter, the presence of gluten in the intestines trigger an immune response, whereby the immune system mistakenly attacks the intestinal lining of the digestive tract. Antibodies triggered by this immune response flatten the villa (tiny finger like receptors) within the intestinal tract, creating inflammation, and preventing essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients from being absorbed into the body.
Symptoms Of Gluten Intolerance
Some common symptoms of gluten intolerance include headache, weight loss, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, gas, cramping, exhaustion, depression, irritability, eczema, malnutrition, and aching joints. Gluten intolerance often remains undiagnosed, or even be misdiagnosed, due to the wide variety and range of symptoms. When gluten intolerance remains undiagnosed over a long period of time, it can potentially cause diabetes, bowel cancer, anemia, osteoporosis, and chronic digestive disorders such as ulcerative colitis and IBS.
Causes of Gluten Intolerance
While the exact cause of gluten intolerance is unknown, recent theories suggest that a change in the molecular structure of wheat is to blame for the rise in gluten sensitivity. According to author and cardiologist, Dr. William Davis, the strain of wheat used in modern wheat production is not the same wheat that has been consumed for the past few thousand years. In his book, “Wheat Belly,” Davis asserts that modern practices of wheat hybridization have changed the molecular structure of wheat, increasing the complexity, while decreasing digestibility, of the gluten molecule.
Davis points to a critical event at the turn of the 20th century as a potential culprit for the rise in gluten intolerance over the past few decades. In the 1950s an organization known as The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (IMWIC) began using artificial breeding techniques to create a heartier, drought resistant form of wheat that could be easily mass produced. Though the efforts of IMWIC were aimed at eradicating world hunger, tinkering with the molecular makeup of this dietary staple may have had some serious repercussions. The problem, according to Davis, is that the human body is not designed to digest this strain of wheat, and consequently has lead to an increase in gluten intolerance since the 1950s.
What You Can Do To Reduce Gluten Sensitivity
The best way to test what effect gluten may be having on your health is to remove it from your diet. If eliminating gluten seems like a daunting task, try reducing the amount you ingest over the course of few weeks, weening yourself off of wheat slowly. Pay careful attention to how you feel as your body adjusts to a gluten free diet. It may help to keep a food journal to track your progress. You may be surprised to find that health conditions you might never have associated with gluten intolerance disappear in the absence of wheat products. There are a variety of gluten free products that can allow you to eat bread and other baked goods without the side effects caused by gluten.
Though the mystery of rising gluten intolerance has yet to be solved, you can do your own research by experimenting with removing gluten from your diet. By eliminating this inflammation causing food from your diet, you may experience unexpected health benefits, increased energy, and greater mental clarity. If you are unsure about whether you are gluten intolerant, you can also speak to your doctor to get the proper tests, information, and support for this condition.
Americans now eat an average of 133 pounds of wheat each year, as compared to 107 pounds in 1970. With gluten intolerance on the rise, gluten free products have also seen an increase, with sales estimated at roughly $2.6 billion in 2010.