It seems like just about every restaurant and bakery has gluten free options these days. We hear about gluten free diets having life changing effects online and even on the news, but how much validity is there to these food sensitivities? Is it possible for someone to be sensitive to a food that does not show up on a true allergy test?
First of all, what is the difference between a food allergy, a food intolerance, and a food sensitivity? Can they be used interchangeably? Naturopathic Doctor Todd. A. Born explains that while the treatments for all three, overlap, there are key differences that patients should note. Unlike true food allergies with reactions within minutes of eating the food, or food intolerances wherein reactions are limited to within the gut, food sensitivities can have delayed, “more vague and varied” symptoms for people – examples being headaches, brain fog, autoimmune disease symptoms, rashes, or digestive issues.
Why are wheat and gluten such a hot topic? Dr. Giulia Enders states in her book, Gut, that wheat in particular is a fussy grain because it has “a very short window of opportunity for its seeds to grow and carry on the family line.” It even has the capability to inhibit an important digestive enzyme in insects that try to eat the wheat plants. As humans, when we find ourselves chowing down on a delicious bowl of pasta, gluten can pass into the cells of the gut in a partially undigested state and can then loosen the connections between our cells. This may allow wheat proteins to sneak into areas we don’t want them in, setting off an INTRUDER alarm in our bodies called an immune response.
For those who have celiac disease, a harmful reaction can be caused by even just 50 milligrams of gluten (around the size of a crouton). The result of eating wheat with celiac disease can be severe, with the possibility of infections, damage to the gut and nervous system, inability to absorb nutrients from food, seizures, and more. Only 1 in 100 people has celiac disease, but many more suffer from gluten sensitivity, wherein the symptoms experienced are similar, but intestinal damage is not done.
Many with gluten sensitivities can still enjoy gluten in moderation and others see improvement in their digestion, brain fog, energy, and more when they cut out gluten for even a week. Maybe this sounds familiar: All my life I have had no problem with bread and now I can’t seem to eat a bite of a bagel without bloating up! So, where did this sudden sensitivity to gluten come from? As it turns out, our guts can actually become temporarily more porous during times of high stress, drinking heavy amounts of alcohol, or taking a course of antibiotics. This temporary change in your gut can set off the reaction explained above, causing an immune response to foods you’ve been able to enjoy freely in the past.
The good news? For many, elimination of immune-response causing foods for a couple months can be what your gut needs to heal. After that elimination phase, gluten or other foods that were cut out can be slowly reintroduced, in moderation. Chances are, most of what was causing issues before will be able to be successfully reintroduced into your diet. We recommend working with a trained practitioner to help you eliminate the correct foods as gluten, despite how much of a buzz word it is these days, may not be the only culprit for your digestive unrest.
Authored by Ellen Davenport
“Allergies, An Immunologic Approach” – An interview with Todd A. Born, ND, CNS in Emerson Element Issue #2 2018.
Enders, Giulia. GUT: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ. 2018.