What is gluten?
Gluten is the protein portion of a number of grains. Commonly these are wheat, rye, spelt, kamut and barley. Especially sensitive individuals, including those with Coeliac Disease, will need to avoid standard oats as well due to contamination, being that they are commonly processed along the same lines as gluten containing products.
Gluten has a natural elasticity and binding ability, and is therefore able to hold foods together and thicken liquids.
Because of this, foods that often contain gluten are more obviously cakes, breads and other baked goods, noodles and pastas. However it can often be used to thicken things like sauces, ice creams, and used as a binding agent in foods such as meatballs and rissoles.
If you are adhering to a gluten free diet, it is important to check ingredients lists on labels. Being that gluten is a common allergen, generally ingredients that contain gluten will be listed in bold in an ingredients list, and there will be a statement such as “this product contains gluten” beneath the list.
How can gluten sensitivity present in the body?
Because this can be due to various types of immune reactions or poor digestive function, and symptoms associated with gluten sensitivity can vary greatly from person to person.
There can be obvious digestive symptoms, like cramping type pains, bloating, nausea or loose stools and diarrhoea, or poor appetite. However more systemic and seemingly unrelated symptoms can be skin rashes, body aches, fatigue and anaemia, headaches, even the worsening of hormonal symptoms for example or other co-presenting conditions.
What is Coeliac Disease?
Just one type of gluten sensitivity, and possibly one of the more rare, is Coeliac disease (CD).
It is an autoimmune condition that affects those that are genetically predisposed. It stems from the inability to digest gluten due to an immune response in the digestive phase. Long term exposure to gluten and this subsequent process, can lead to the breakdown of cells of the gastro-intestinal wall (epithelial cells), primarily of the small intestine. This long-term environment can also create what is commonly called “leaky gut” or gastro-intestinal hyper-permeability, which can then lead to more immune activity and inflammation, which may increase the potential for a reaction to other foods as well.
How do we approach gluten sensitivity in clinic?
We have an abundance of delicious options for your gluten free diet in store, including uncontaminated gluten free oats! If you do need some in depth, individualised support, you can book in for a Naturopathy or Nutrition appointment.
As we can see, gluten sensitivity and other food sensitivities can be closely linked and not just affect the digestive system. The good news is, there’s so much we can do to support you through this, and in a number of cases reduce sensitivity.
Generally, a clinical approach to food sensitivities is exploring other possible sensitivities, supporting any gastro-intestinal hyper-permeability with specific nutrients and supporting herbs, restoring nutrient deficiencies that may come about from impaired digestive function, supporting the balance of the immune system, the skin and any other areas of the body that might be affected.
References are available upon request.
Written by Melinda Muston, Naturopath.
Melinda is available for appointments at the Vive Health Clinic, to book click here.