One thing I don’t talk about very much is gluten. To me, gluten is just one of the many things wrong with wheat, and why we shouldn’t really be making it - or any of the cereal grains - staples of our diets anymore. Gluten intolerance gets a lot of grief, even though there has been study after study in support of non-Celiac gluten intolerance being a real thing. People will look down their noses and say “Well, that sucks if YOU’RE gluten intolerant,but I’m not, so I’m just going to go ahead and continue eating bread.” Even worse is when folks accuse others of "faking" a gluten intolerance. My first thought: Most of us have down-regulated. It’s actually hard to really know if you’re intolerant to something until you go off of it for a bit. Our sensitivity to discomfort and symptoms down-regulates. Here’s a great analogy that I’ve heard used to describe the down-regulation of sensitivity to something. Say you walk into a party and someone there is wearing a really intense perfume. At first, all you can smell is that perfume and you find it to be quite an assault to the senses. But as you mingle about and spend more time in the party, you get used to the smell. If you had to duck out of the party for a bit - say to run to the store to pick up some gluten-free snacks? *grin* - when you returned, you’d probably notice the perfume again, although it mightn’t seem as strong as it did the first time you went in. Eventually, you’d stop noticing the perfume at all. The perfume is still THERE, obviously. You just stopped noticing it. You have down-regulated your sensitivity to it. The body has a biological reason for doing this - it helped us survive and evolve even when things got a little hard to take. Here is a response I get from naysayers, often actually. They’ll counter with: “Well, if you were to eliminate ANYTHING out of your diet for 30 days, you’d probably feel discomfort when you reintroduced it.” Really? Like what - water? Spinach? Olive oil? No. Dairy, wheat, sugar, corn? Yes. Come on. You know better than that. Second thing: You are most definitely better off without gluten. Sorry. Just because you don’t feel sick to your stomach after you eat pasta doesn’t mean you aren’t having a reaction to gluten. And that’s what this blog post is about. (Sidebar: Why are people totally on board with lactose intolerance, but immediately discard the theory of gluten intolerance? Anyway...)
Non-Anaphylactic Food Sensitivities A food sensitivity can show up, symptoms-wise, in many different ways. Indigestion, constipation, diarrhea - sure. But also:
A rash, or sudden outbreak of random acne. A stiff elbow or sore knee. A mood swing.
It's not always what you expect it's going to feel like. Non-anaphylactic sensitivity reactions can also show up several days later. It’s very hard to keep track of food sensitivities, which is why holistic health professionals encourage a 30-day elimination and then strategic reintroduction diet to help get to the root of what foods actually irritate us, physiologically. Now, you know this from like 10th grade science. All of these sensitivity or allergy responses come from the immune system. The immune system deploys when it senses a threat. You are deploying an immune response by eating food that disagrees with you, even if you don’t feel it in your stomach. The immune system is looking for the cause of all this havoc, but it can’t find a disease, it can’t find an invader, so it just sort of “fans out.” A system-wide immune response. This is the systemic inflammation that has become so popular to talk about in science, medicine, and health circles. Thought to be at the root of most modern lifestyle disease epidemics, like heart disease, T2 Diabetes and obesity. When this inflammation happens, you might start to feel that your joints are stiff, for example. That’s an obvious sign of inflammation. But actually your whole body is inflamed. Stay with me here, I’m going to endeavour to keep this brief. When your intestinal wall gets inflamed, it causes that lining to become more permeable. The intestinal wall needs some permeability because that is where the verrrrrry small end-products of digestion absorb out into the blood stream - vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, etc. But when those spaces get to be too big, other things sneak out. Like undigested food bits that the body attempted to reject and send out through the excretory system (poop). There are SOME nutrients in grains, but gluten isn't one of them; gluten is one of the bits that the body didn't need and was attempting to dispose of. In fact, the gluten in your precious 43-grain bread actually does serve a purpose: it's an anti-nutrient, whose sole function in life is to make predators feel ill, so that the wheat/barley/rye plant can survive. That's right: it makes you feel sick, by design. There is a protein in gluten called “gliadin.” This is not super important to know - you don’t have to go to the grocery store and look for gliadin-free muffin mix or anything. But gliadin has a molecular structure very very similar to thyroid tissue. This is a problem...
Autoimmune Thyroid Disorder Your thyroid gland is an extremely important piece of metabolic machinery. It is delicate, sensitive, and any assault on it can throw your wellness incredibly far off track. So far off track that a doctor can’t really bring you back from it with medication. A functional nutrition and health coach like me will be up against a big wall in trying to dial in your general wellness. Your personal trainer won’t be able to get your weight to budge no matter what... There are just so many things that can go wrong with the thyroid; it is not to be trifled with. So when the foreign, unknown gliadin protein shows up in the blood stream all of a sudden, by way of your permeable gut lining plus that half a scone you had with your morning tea, the immune system goes on high alert and creates antibodies to attack and kill it. The problem is that these antibodies also go after and attempt to kill your nearly bioidentical thyroid cells too. This is called autoimmunity - when the immune system attacks the self. It attacks US. Autoimmune thyroid conditions are greatly becoming one of the largest-growing health concerns that wellness practitioners are encountering.
Let's swing this back around to gluten… This particular brand of “gluten intolerance” doesn’t feel like gut rot at all - it feels like the slow, methodical shutting down of your metabolic processes. Lethargy, fatigue, mental fog, mood swings, sapped energy, unmanageable weight… The list of thyroid symptoms is enormous. Some of the most miserable symptoms to spend your days living with. An interesting fact: one exposure to gluten can trigger an autoimmune thyroid attack for up to six months. So even treating yourself to the french toast at your favourite breakfast joint a few times a year is prolonging/reigniting the attack on the sensitive, important thyroid. Just get the gluten OUT, if you have thyroid symptoms (a wellness practitioner, naturopathic doctor, or, you know, the internet can help you suss that out). Non-negotiable: if you are anywhere on the spectrum for autoimmune thyroid disorder, you are gluten intolerant, now and forever. You might want to consider this the next time you proudly declare yourself "gluten tolerant." It’s just safer, right across the board, to avoid that crap. There is no nutrient in a gluten-grain that you can’t get - more bioavailably - in a more nutritious food. Gluten isn’t actually GOOD for anyone, and it is BAD for a lot of people. Probably you too.
This blog post is about autoimmune thyroid disorder, specifically. But there are hundreds and hundreds of diseases that are now being linked to autoimmunity. Things you or someone you know has probably been living with: IBS, arthritis, narcolepsy, Crohns, Celiac, eczema, endometriosis, PCOS… As well, here are symptoms linked to autoimmunity. Are you regularly experiencing any of these?
Muscle and Joint Pain
Susceptibility to Infections
Unexplained Weight Changes
Resistance to Weight Loss
Anxiety and Depression
Blood Pressure Changes (usually low)
Low Blood Sugar
If any of this has rung a bell, your best course of action to calm down your immune system, to get it to stop wreaking havoc on your OWN BODY, is to remove things that are antagonizing it. That includes foods to which you are even a little bit sensitive. Like, oh I don’t know… gluten. :)