By Dr. Susan Blum
Celiac disease is a very specific autoimmune illness that is defined by damage to the villi of the small intestines. The trigger for this damaging immune reaction is gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, spelt, rye and kamut. The conventional dogma is that if you don’t have this intestinal damage you don’t have a gluten problem. Wrong! It turns out that gluten can trigger other immune reactions and symptoms without any damage to the small intestine, thus you can test negative for celiac, but still be gluten intolerant. And there is good evidence that gluten is associated with other autoimmune diseases as well, like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves disease.
In the United States, wheat has been genetically modified by our agricultural practices and tends to cause many health problems. Wheat contains a protein called gluten, and these genetic changes have increased the amount of gluten in the wheat we consume. Gluten is very hard for the body to breakdown, and doesn't always get digested completely. When partially digested gluten particles get into our blood stream, they can trigger an immune reaction causing vague symptoms like brain fog, fatigue, inflammation and achiness in muscles and joints. Some people also have obvious gut symptoms like gas and bloating.
How do gluten particles get into your blood stream? Certain conditions can damage the lining of the intestinal tract. For example, antacids, antibiotics, severe prolonged stress, not enough good bacteria, too much bad bacteria or yeast (a condition called dysbiosis) are all conditions that cause increased permeability of the intestinal lining. The lining becomes "leaky" and the gluten protein sneaks into the body, causing an emergency reaction from the immune system.
To make matters worse, the gluten protein "looks" like our tissues, so the immune system can get confused, attacking the body and causing an autoimmune disease.
There are many gluten-free products on the market. Be careful to choose breads and crackers that are made from whole grains and that are rich in fiber like our Pharmer Bread. Sometimes gluten-free products are made with processed rice flour or potato starch and this makes them high glycemic—increasing your blood sugar in a bad way—so it's best to avoid these.