Understanding Gluten Sensitivity

Understanding Gluten Sensitivity


by Shelly Malone

“I’m gluten-free” is likely the most polarizing statement in the health community today. Progressive practitioners (and their cli­ents) devoutly stand by the role gluten can play in inflammation and overall immunity, while conventional medicine dismisses its legitimacy and even condemns the “dangers” of a gluten-free diet outside of a confirmed diagnosis of celiac disease.

Mainstream media has dutifully played its role by jumping on the topic and constantly feeding us the hype, and then rejoicing in the opportunity to run a follow-up feature with the gluten-free tag as the villain. But as with most stories, there are three sides: His, hers, and the truth. And in this case, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

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For the most part, gluten’s overexposure — and the awareness it brings — is positive. All press is good press — especially when it brings to light the fact that gluten is linked to over 50 different disease states.

Diseases and Conditions Associated with Gluten Sensitivity:

  • Autoimmune disease
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Infertility
  • Endometriosis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Fatigue
  • Skin conditions (e.g. psoriasis, eczema)
  • Digestive disease (e.g. irritable bowel disease)
  • Mood and cognitive issues including ADHD, anxiety and depression
  • Cancer
  • Autism
  • Epilepsy

It is estimated that about 1% of Americans have celiac disease (CD). But, for every one person with CD, there are an estimated six or seven people with non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). For this population, it has been shown that there is a 35–72% increased risk of death (primarily due to cancer, heart and respiratory disease, but other causes are at play here as well). Unfortunately, due to the lag in recognition by conventional medicine, it takes on average five physicians and 10–11 years to diagnose a gluten sensitivity and it is estimated that 99% of those with a gluten sensitivity still are not aware of it.


So what IS gluten, how do you avoid it, and why would you want to?

Let’s start at the beginning.

All foods are made up of three macronutrients — carbohydrate, protein and fat. Gluten is the protein complex that exists in grains, namely wheat, rye, spelt, and barley.

Gluten is a very large protein and it is very difficult to digest. In fact, the human body doesn’t completely digest gluten at all. Glu­ten provides structure and elasticity for baked goods, but there are many concerns with the way our conventional, gluten-containing grains are processed and harvested today that make them especially harmful. Linking back to Chapter 3, we’re talking about the use of bromate for quick rising (a possible carcinogen) and glyphosate herbicides to expedite the harvesting process and increase the yield.

If your body is not completely breaking down gluten, protein pep­tides can form and act on opiate receptors in the brain, mimicking the effects of drugs like heroin or morphine, creating cravings and/ or an addiction to more of the gluten-containing food.

Common sense would indicate (correctly) that this doesn’t sound beneficial to anyone, but for some, it creates a whole world of hurt.


For people with inflammatory, chronic conditions (autoimmune or otherwise) and a disruption in their microbiome, gluten is es­pecially problematic, because their body will have a harder time digesting it. It sits there bored in the intestine for a minute, then before it has had enough time to marinate in the proper digestive juices, it sneaks out through the tennis net gut lining and starts stumbling around. Eventually — and unfortunately — it can get into the bloodstream, and set itself up in various systems within the body depending on the specific genetic predisposition. At this point, the undigested food particle is seen as a foreign invader and the always-at-the-ready immune system attacks, resulting in an in­flammatory response.

Even if your microbiome is right as rain, you’re not exempt, as con­suming high amounts of gluten can lead to future problems. Re­member, when anyone eats gluten, it causes the release of a protein called zonulin, which unzips the tight junctions that hold together a currently intact intestinal lining. That is, it can create a leaky gut.

Autoimmune Disorders & Gluten Sensitivity

In autoimmune disease, messages get crossed. When triggered by a foreign invader, the immune system gets confused and starts to at­tack its bodies’ own tissues. Which specific tissues, or systems, get attacked depends on the genetic predisposition. For example, with rheumatoid arthritis, joints are attacked. With multiple sclerosis, the central nervous system is attacked, with Hashimoto’s thyroid­itis, the thyroid is attacked.

The conventional treatment for autoimmune disease is to suppress the immune system with drugs. However, a more progressive ap­proach is to identify and eliminate the source that is triggering the immune system. One of the biggest triggers is food sensitivities, with gluten at the top of the list.

Gluten is no joke. And if you find you do have a sensitivity, and you want to feel better, gluten is likely something you will need to say farewell to forever. For those concerned with the conven­tional-minded headlines about the dangers of the gluten-free diet, I have a newsflash of my own: Wheat and gluten are not essential nutrients. We don’t have to consume either as part of a healthy diet. There are approximately zero nutrients exclusive to gluten-con­taining grains that can’t be found elsewhere.

The above article is an extract from: Inflamed: discover the root cause of inflammation and personalize a step-by-step plan to create a healthy, vibrant life by Shelly Malone.

About the author:
Shelly Malone is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and a member of the Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine practice group within the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She holds a B.S. in Nutritional Science from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and a Masters in Public Health (MPH) from UCLA, with a concentration in Nutrition. She is a Foundational Member of the Bioindividual Nutrition Institute and a Certified Bioindividual Nutrition Practitioner (CBNP). Inspired by her own diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, and symptom management with diet and lifestyle for nearly a decade, she is on a mission to help others understand and reap the benefits of an anti-inflammatory lifestyle. For more information: inflamedbook.com.


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