It’s difficult these days to talk about wheat without getting into gluten. Many places that sell and serve food, we see Gluten Free options, even though it is the gluten that gives wheat products much of their flavor and food value.
Fear of gluten is partly due to Celiac Disease. Data indicates about 10 percent of the U.S. population, or as many as 30 million people, have Celiac Disease. Those affected have an auto-immune response in the small intestine to the gluten complex: gliaden, and three peptides present in prolamin, that results in inflammation and digestive disorders, including failure to absorb calcium and Vitamin D.
It is thought that Celiac Disease is genetic in origin, as most of those affected have the same HLA (human leukocyte antigen) on the short arm of the sixth chromosome, but there is evidence the disease can be provoked by infantile exposure to gluten before the tissue of the gut barrier of the small intestine is fully developed.
Some observers suggest that 99 percent of those affected with Celiac Disease are currently undiagnosed. This suggestion can be misleading, because the 99 percent suggestion pushes a person pretty hard in the direction of thinking they might be affected, but undiagnosed.
The symptoms of severe Celiac Disease are constant digestive disfunction, vacillating between extremes of constipation and diarrhea leading to anemia, weight loss and a failure to thrive. The symptoms of gluten intolerance, or a gluten allergy are gas, bloating, fatigue, constipation, diarrhea, anxiety and a slight failure to thrive. These symptoms are shared by so many other disorders that many people might be tempted to make the old mistake of attributing causation to correlation, especially when “99 percent of those affected are currently undiagnosed.”
There are genetic and blood tests for Celiac Disease, but these are expensive and generally inconclusive, unless followed by an upper endoscopy of the duodenum, requiring a minimum of six to eight biopsy samples, as all areas of the bowel may not be reactive.
An alternate way to confirm an intolerance to gluten is to remove it from your diet for a month and then reintroduce it to assess your reaction. Personally, I find it difficult to remember all the things I eat in a given day unless I make notes (and then I forget to make notes) so this strategy for self-diagnosis requires (a) discipline: no accidental consumption of wheat, barley, or rye; (b) attention to detail: reading labels carefully to be sure you’re eating gluten free; (c) control of variables: what else did I eat that could have caused that unwanted gas; and (d) no influence or suggestive interference from the current Gluten Free campaign found in most supermarkets and restaurants.
Another reason for Gluten Free offerings is that some people have a reaction to gluten that is variously known as Wheat Belly: bloating, gas and digestive discomfort, similar to Celiac Disease, but not as physically dangerous or debilitating. This may relate to allergies, or a sensitivity reaction to some of the chemicals used in wheat production.
Finally, it is known that eating a lot of bread can make you fat. “Once on the lips, forever on the hips,” is the saying often associated with eating bread. Many diets recommend eliminating bread as a first step to losing weight, ignoring portion control. Also, blaming bread for weight gain ignores the butter, nut butters, and jams on the bread.
As an old wheat farmer, I encourage people to recall that wheat is still The Staff of Life. While there is no question that some people must avoid gluten, the majority of us have to decide whether to go Gluten Free or Free Gluten. ❖