Gluten and Your Health 2017-10-15T22:12:24+00:00

What is gluten?

Gluten refers to the proteins found in cereal grain’s endosperm (a type of tissue produced in seeds that are ground to make flour). Gluten both nourishes plant embryos during germination. Gluten is actually composed of two different proteins: gliadin (a prolamin protein) and glutenin (a glutelin protein). Though “true gluten” is sometimes defined as being specific to wheat, gluten is also found in barley and rye.  Gluten is also found in hybrids of wheat such as spelt, kamut, and triticale.

When flour is mixed with water, the gluten proteins form a sticky network that has a glue-like consistency.  This glue-like property makes the dough elastic, and gives bread the ability to rise when baked. It also provides a chewy, satisfying texture.  The elasticity of gluten also allows dough to trap air bubbles when rising making baked bread light and fluffy.

Interestingly, the name glu-ten is derived from this glue-like property of wet dough.

Is gluten harmful?

Normally when we digest protein, it gets broken down int the stomach and small intestine into single or double amino acids that are easily absorbed by the small intestine.  But the gluten molecule is resistant to the enzymes that break down proteins.  Rather than being digested, wheat is left as a long peptide chain composed of 33 amino acids.  This molecule get into the lining of the intestine, underneath the top layer of cells that line the villi.  In some people this causes an immunological reaction and begins to inflame and destroy the cell wall.

Gluten is only bad for certain people. These people are gluten-sensitive or gluten-intolerant, which means their bodies produce an abnormal immune response when breaking down gluten during digestion.

Symptoms of celiac disease or gluten intolerance usually appear anywhere from 30 minutes to a few days after ingesting gluten.

Celiac disease

Celiac (coeliac) disease is the most well-known form of gluten intolerance.   When someone with celiac disease consumes gluten, it triggers an immune response that damages their intestines, preventing them from absorbing vital nutrients.  Celiac disease is diagnosed through a blood test and endoscopy.  The only cure is a strict lifelong gluten free diet.

Gluten intolerance

Symptoms of non-celiac gluten intolerance (NCGS) are similar to the symptoms of celiac disease but without the immune response that damage the intestine as it does in celiac disease.   Gluten intolerance is not yet well researched, but there is a significant amount of evidence to support the existence of the condition.  It is considered less severe than celiac disease but the symptoms can be just as debilitating.

There are not yet any agreed upon medical tests to diagnose gluten sensitivity with the exception of improved health when gluten is eliminated from diet.     It is important to rule out celiac disease before starting a gluten free diet.

Gluten allergy

This term is very misleading as it is really an allergy to wheat, not gluten. A wheat allergy is an allergic response by the body that triggers symptoms such as rashes, asthma, or even anaphylactic shock but unlike celiac disease, it does not involve self-destruction of body tissues.  A gluten free diet is very useful for this condition, but all wheat must be eliminated, including gluten free wheat starch.