Gluten schmuten [part 1] – what’s all the fuss about?

By Alive & Well

When I used to feed my kids noodles or bread and see their tummies all swollen afterwards, I’d think “Isn’t that great? They’re so full!”

YumWhat I didn’t realise is that their tummies shouldn’t be like that after a meal. That their systems were actually unhappy. And that there were consequences on their guts that weren’t so pleasant either.

The problem was wheat, or specifically, a protein composite it contains called gluten that gives things like bread and pasta their elasticity, shape and chewy texture. But unfortunately, for many people gluten is very difficult to digest – and over time, it can damage the integrity of the small intestine.

Gluten intolerance is associated with a number of health issues, the most common being Coeliac disease, an autoimmune condition in which the body mistakenly makes antibodies that damage its own tissues. This makes the inside of the small intestine flat and inflamed (when it should actually look like a shag pile carpet), leading to a range of other health concerns over time.

So people with Coeliac disease – like our very own Marj – need to avoid all forms of gluten to restore their digestive tract and, ultimately, their health.

When gluten acts like morphine

Gluten intolerance is also commonly associated with Autism. People with Autism often have other problems such as gastrointestinal disorders (A.K.A. ‘leaky gut’) that hamper their ability to digest gluten – and, for that matter, casein, the protein in many milk products.

It is believed that the partially digested peptides from these proteins travel through the holes in the intestinal wall, into the blood stream and up to the brain. They’re then thought to have the same kind of effect on the brain and nervous system as opiates like morphine, increasing pain thresholds and diminishing ability to learn, concentrate and interact socially.[1]

Hence people with Autism often go on a gluten- and casein-free diet so their bodies and brains have a chance to heal. When we did that with Mr8, his ‘spaced-out’ moments immediately decreased to zero. That was followed by a fairly frightening bacteria die-off period as the bad bugs in his system fought for survival, but then a steady return to vibrant health. We haven’t looked back since then – and I know many, many, many other families with children on the Spectrum who have had a similar experience.

But gluten’s been part of our diet for centuries, right?

Well yes, and not quite. There are a few theories about why gluten has become more of a problem recently:

  • Higher gluten content in wheat – high-gluten bread is particularly light and fluffy, and some producers breed their wheat crops selectively so their grains have higher gluten content
  • A larger proportion of gluten products in our diets – some people literally have bread for breakfast, lunch and dinner, not to mention lashings of pasta
  • The overly processed nature of our food – decreasing our health overall and making our bodies work harder to function well. A couple of generations ago, simple meals would be cooked from scratch without any sign of preservatives.

But even so, the reality is that our bodies have always had limits on how much gluten and casein they can handle. Studies dating back to the 1960s show the benefit of excluding these two proteins from the diets of children who did not have Coeliac’s but did have other health issues.[2]

And there’s plenty of research showing that a gluten- and casein-free diet can benefit people with Crohn’s disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Multiple Sclerosis, arthritis, asthma, eczema, candida, osteoporosis, anaemia and migraines – all of which are increasingly common these days.

Do you get a bloated stomach when you eat pasta or bread? Have you tried cutting out gluten? What did it do for you?

[Next post: Part 2 – how to get GF-ready and raring to go…]

[1] Reichelt KL, Knivsberg AM, Can the pathophysiology of autism be explained by the nature of the discovered urine peptides? Nutr Neurosci. 2003 Feb; 6(1): 19-28

[2] Visakorpi JK, Immonen , 1967, Intolerance to Cow’s Milk and Wheat Gluten in the Primary Malabsorption Syndrome in Infancy, Acta Paediatrica; 56 (1), 49-56