There is a genetic association with celiac disease (a diagnosed allergy to gluten), however, this only accounts for approximately 40 per cent of the risk of developing the disease. It makes sense, therefore, that there are other lifestyle and environmental factors playing a role in the development of a diagnosable gluten allergy.

Despite this, there is a common misunderstanding that gluten has no relevance to the non-celiac population, even though the celiac test does not cover one per cent of the markers of gluten malabsorption and does not address the more common intolerance, non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

Baking

GLUTEN OR NO GLUTEN?: Bridie Kersten says advice should be sought from a nutritionist or wholistic dietician before adopting such as lifestyle. PICTURE: Gaelle Marcel/www.unsplash.com

 

"We now understand that gluten impacts tryptophan levels; tryptophan is essential for not only our sleep hormones but also our feel good hormones such as serotonin. This understanding finally helped researchers make sense of why people with a non-celiac gluten sensitivity (known as NCGS) have experienced altered moods and mental illnesses such as depression, psychosis and anxiety while including gluten in their diet."

Because of the way that the traditional medicine world checks for allergies, we are limited to a diagnosis of celiac or not celiac. But this does not leave room for intolerances of gluten, a protein molecule found in grains such as wheat, barley and rye. An intolerance to gluten is a much broader term as the wholistic medicine approach assesses how gluten affects the innate immune system, inflammation and therefore, the gut.

The implications of gluten affecting the innate immune system are far-reaching. The immune system is complex and involved in many of our body systems and processes - it is linked to our gut as well as our brain. What this can also mean is the development of auto immunity such as diabetes, arthritis or Hashimoto’s (thyroid disease) and neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis.

This happens because the gut acts as a barrier that determines what is recognised as self or invader for the immune system so that it knows what to attack and what not to attack. The immune system not being educated on what not to attack (self) is the foundation of auto immunity.

We now understand that gluten impacts tryptophan levels; tryptophan is essential for not only our sleep hormones but also our feel good hormones such as serotonin. This understanding finally helped researchers make sense of why people with a non-celiac gluten sensitivity (known as NCGS) have experienced altered moods and mental illnesses such as depression, psychosis and anxiety while including gluten in their diet.

The introduction of gluten into celiac’s and NCGS’ diets mediated changes within the gut – this is due to the inflammatory action of gluten on the gut. There is also an observed change in cortisol production: cortisol is our body’s stress hormone, released in response to environmental and perceived stressors and it has a range of affects on the human body - for example, it perpetuates inflammatory cycles and leads to the breakdown of organ function – particularly the digestive system.

Because of the way that gluten is digested and absorbed in the digestive system, it elicits an immune reaction and an inflammatory response. However, in the presence of some bacteria in our gut such as the lactobacillus and bifido bacteria found in some yoghurts, this response was considerably dampened showing that the presence of healthy gut bacteria can improve our digestion of gluten. This is why excessive antibiotic use is a key risk factor for the development of celiac disease and NCGS.

This connection suggests that actually we are better off giving our body a break from gluten as opposed to supplementing constantly with probiotics. This is especially relevant to people diagnosed with celiac disease as it has been shown to be reversible in the absence of gluten in the diet. One of the key pieces of research that showed this reversal involved participants with diagnosed psychosis where not only their psychosis but also their gluten sensitivity was resolved with the removal of gluten from their diet.

Now here is the warning that must come with the title 'gluten free'. A gluten free diet should only be adopted under the supervision of a nutritionist or wholistic dietitian. This is because, many products these days are reproduced in a gluten free version but offer no health benefits. Gluten free bread is a good example, often full of preservatives and other additives that are detrimental to health.

Bridie Kersten is a registered nutritionist with an advanced diploma in nutrition and a Bachelor of Health Science (biochemistry and nutritional medicine). 

This information is general information only and may not be suitable for you, please seek your healthcare professional before making alterations to your diet.