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Our Love-Hate Relationship With Gluten

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by Mila McManus, MD

There was a time in history when this conversation was unnecessary, and wheat (our primary source of gluten) would have been included in a healthy diet. Why all the ruckus about gluten[1] now?

The wheat we eat today is not what we ate even fifty years ago. Today, conventionally produced wheat crops undergo super-hybridization as well as chemical and radiological mutations so that it is highly resistant to pesticides. Another way to say it is to describe wheat as a man-made fake food. Wheat is also treated with noxious chemicals twice, including just before harvesting. As a result, when we eat wheat, we are consuming these poisons in every bite. Additionally, processing techniques used in the United States and Australia also increase the gluten content, especially in wheat,  making it even more difficult to digest.

What happens when we eat wheat or other glutinous foods?[2] Even people who do not have a sensitivity[3] to gluten may have a temporary leaky gut and increased inflammation after consuming it.

In the gut during digestion, gluten:

First: Activates zonulin, a protein that regulates the tight junctions of the small intestine.

Second: When zonulin is released, the tight junctions open slightly, allowing larger particles of food, including gluten, to pass through the intestinal wall and into the bloodstream.

Third: The body releases anti-inflammatory cytokines to help heal the leaky gut situation. Chronic consumption of gluten makes healing extremely difficult.

Fourth: In the meantime, the immune system, specifically a number of immunoglobulins (e.g. IgG, IgA), move in to attack the larger food particles which are recognized as foe, rather than friend, since they are not broken down properly during digestion. (food sensitivities result, as does inflammation and congestion caused by them).

Specifically, the permeability of the gut barrier and an imbalance of microbiome is a primary trigger of the inflammatory process in the human body.

The truth about gluten is one of our least and most favorite messages to share with our patients. It is a love-hate topic.  Hate, because glutenous foods are all around us and they are some of the most popular, well-loved foods in the world from bread and pastries to hamburger buns and pizza. Love, because we witness over, and over, and over again, the dramatic improvement in gut health and overall health, and weight when it is removed from the diet.

We love you too much to not tell you what you hate to hear. Eat well, Be well.

You can learn more about this topic by reading this article we published in 2017 about gluten:

[1] Gluten is a protein found in specific grains including wheat and its many derivatives, rye, barley, malt, and brewer’s yeast. An excellent resource for sources is found here:

[2] Goodness Lover Pty Ltd. The Inflammation Solution: Top 29 Gut Healing & Inflammation-fighting Foods.2022.

[3] About 2 million people in the US and 1% of the global population have been diagnosed with celiac disease, the  most extreme gluten sensitivity. An estimated 20% of the population has a non-celiac gluten sensitivity. We find most people feel significantly better and experience greater health by avoiding it.

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