Gluten – is it harmful to the health

More recently, gluten has been an unknown term for many of us, but gluten awareness has increased with increasing cases of celiac disease and a gluten-free diet. Gluten-free products are in demand mainly due to their intolerance, as well as with proper nutrition. 

What is gluten?

Gluten is not a specific substance, but the collective name of a whole group of proteins that are found in some plants. Namely, in cereals, such as:

• oats – avenine;

• barley – hordein;

• rye – sekalin.

However, the designation gluten is used for all types of these cereals. The main part of gluten is made up of glutenin and gliadin, and gliadin is responsible for the negative effects of gluten on the human body. Gliadin is found in wheat, oats, barley, and other cereals. People, who suffer from celiac disease or Crohn’s disease are sensitive to this protein.

Gluten Absorption Process

A gluten-free diet is a diet that uses gluten-free foods. This type of diet is not only part of the treatment of celiac disease but is also associated with several diseases and intolerances to products.

Celiac disease

Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune disease in which cells of the small intestine penetrate the immune system. This reaction occurs when gluten is digested and affects about 1% of the world’s population. The cause of this disease is still unclear, but there is compelling evidence of its genetic predisposition.

In the United States, approximately 1 out of 133 people suffer from celiac disease, which, with 331 million people, is about 2.5 million people. The only way to treat celiac disease is a strict gluten-free diet. Celiac disease is associated not only with restrictions on gluten use but also with insufficient digestibility of nutrients in the bloodstream, which leads to anemia, weight loss, or stunted growth. In addition to irritating the small intestine, gluten used in celiac disease causes several other complications:

• osteoporosis;

•multiple sclerosis;

• infertility;

• thyroiditis.

Other gluten sensitivity

This is a manifestation of hypersensitivity to gluten, which has several negative manifestations similar to the manifestations of celiac disease, but the test results do not indicate celiac disease or allergies to wheat. The acronym NCGS is used for this type of sensitivity – non-celiac gluten sensitivity. The discovery of NCGS took place in the 1980s, and its results can be compared with knowledge about celiac disease 40 years ago. Currently, there is very little information about this type of gluten intolerance, and the only way to eliminate the manifestations of sensitivity is to eliminate gluten from the diet. The clinical presentation of NCGS is usually a combination of intestinal and some common symptoms.

Approximately 18 million Americans suffer from one form of gluten intolerance or non-cellular gluten sensitivity. Symptoms of intolerance include bloating and flatulence, diarrhea, weakness, and a rash.

Wheat Allergy

Wheat allergy is not directly related to gluten intolerance, although they are very similar. This is an allergy to wheat itself, and not just to gluten proteins. The difference from celiac disease is the apparent intolerance to wheat, when an allergic person can safely use gluten from other sources, such as barley. A gluten-free diet is a possible way of eating with such an allergy because wheat is one of the most common sources of gluten.

How to recognize gluten intolerance?

Gluten intolerance has a wide range of symptoms. Digestive problems are the most common manifestation and include:

• bloating;

• flatulence;

  • abdominal pain;

• constipation;

• diarrhea;

• gastric reflux.

Gluten intolerance is an inflammatory manifestation of the body to digest this protein. In addition to digestive problems, intolerance also includes symptoms that are not directly related to digestion:

• weight gain or loss;

• joint pain;

• anxiety, depression, irritability and other behavioral changes;

• eczema;

• headaches;

• energy loss and frequent fatigue;

• asthma and allergies;

• cramps, numbness, and tingling (associated with poor digestibility B12).

 Gluten in Products

Gluten-Free Products

Gluten is part of a large number of products that can be divided into three types:

  1. Cereals – Wheat, barley, rye, spelled, semolina, couscous, bulgur, and other cereals;
  2. Processed cereal products – bread, cookies, pasta, breadcrumbs or bread;
  3. Other foods and drinks – barley malt, malt vinegar, soy sauce, condensed flour sauces, beer, and some types of wine.

Many foods, and especially processed foods, may contain “hidden gluten,” which you don’t even expect to see in these products. Therefore, people with an allergy to gluten should carefully check the composition of the products. Another important fact is that gluten can also be found in non-food products:

• lipsticks, lip balms, and lip glosses;

• medicines and nutritional supplements;

• plasticine.

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