The topic of wheat flour has been a keen interest that I have had for quite some time, being a key ingredient in many types of foods with bread being the most valued. (Others include, biscuits, pizzas, pastries, noodles etc.)
Bread (particularly whole-grain) is promoted as an essential food needed for an adequate well-being  and has been a long staple in many western cultures as well. Wheat contains a long history of agriculture and consumption with different specialties to create newer wheat-based products. (e.g. baking)
Yet, lets talk about the gluey protein in wheat – gluten, that enables the key role it plays in many food products. What is gluten and how does it function? Is it beneficial or harmful? Why is there a large boom in ‘Gluten-free’ markets? Should I be concern?
The Gluey Protein
What is gluten? Gluten comprises of two smaller proteins, gliadin and glutenin. Gliadin provides the adhesive properties to gluten when water is added, while glutenin provides strength and elasticity. This provides a strand-like network that binds the structure together . This can also be observed during the dough-making process of bread-baking – as water is added to wheat, it forms a dough that stiffens during kneading.
Extracting gluten from flour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9nCYhlj5Z1c
Celiac Disease is an auto-immune disorder whereby gluten stimulates an auto-immune response from the body that results in damages dealt to the small intestines (at the villi). In the long-run, these damages can deplete efficacy of absorbing nutrients, resulting in nutrient-deficiencies. People who have the disease are unable to tolerate gluten-products at all . What about sensitivities in general?
There still remains some controversies, some sources indicates that it poses a health concern while some argued that it can merely be a placebo effect and it may not be gluten at all . I had read Dr. David Perlmutter’s ‘Grain Brain: The Surprising Truths About Wheat, Carbs and Sugar — Your Brain’s Silent Killers‘ and had made points that gluten can cause inflammation in the intestines. To some degree, the damage inflicted can affect brain proteins and the nervous system.
The book goes in-dept about the rising gluten content in foods, sugar initiating a glycation reaction (damaging proteins), cholesterol, fats and exercise – In relation to brain health. Dr. David Perlmutter had pointed out a source from the MayoClinic indicating a relation between patients with celiac disease and cognitive decline. However, only a relation was established which indicate that gluten may or may not have a definite role.
But can you have these sensitivities despite not having celiac disease? According to the Celiac Disease Foundation (CDF), it is possible. These people would test negative for any antibodies related to the disease or may have no signs of damage to their small intestines, yet still experience similar symptoms to those having celiac disease . To delve deeper, zonulin – a protein that regulates the permeability of the intestines to allow macro-nutrients and molecules to enter, may be important in providing more substance to gluten sensitivity.
Zonulin, when in excess can potentially lead to a syndrome called leaky gut, whereby the intestines become more permeable in allowing substances to bypass the intestinal lining. Gliadin, a proponent of gluten can lead to an increase of zonulin and when foreign substances are able permeate, the immune system attack these substances while causing inflammation . The study quoted was done by Dr. Alessio Fasano and he had mentioned of two stimulus that can increase zonulin, secretion by enteric bacteria or gliadin bounded to intestinal receptors at the interior of the gut .
This means that gluten can have a leaky gut effect even to people without celiac disease. To further support this claim, a double blinded, randomized, placebo-controlled trial with patients having Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) had shown that those in the gluten-diet had occurrence of celiac-disease related symptoms than the control group .
Skeptics of gluten sensitivity can include how may gliadin affect other organs of the body than the intestines itself or the incidence of patients that have this sensitivity, with an inference that IBS is the cause instead.
With patients suffering from wheat allergies, celiac disease and gluten intolerance, it would make sense that gluten-free products would exist. But why is it that the market for these products are increasing? Are there more people getting diagnosed? The short answer is that, gluten free is growing as a fad-diet.
There lies a misconception that gluten-free foods are more healthier or could help you to lose weight, yet food companies are capitalising on the trend’s populace . Despite, gliadin’s properties in increasing gut permeability and benefits in going gluten-free, the majority may not be as sensitive towards these effects .
If the decision is not an informed one, consumers may be at risk for certain vitamin deficiencies  and gluten-free foods may include even more sugar, fats and additives to substitute the gluey effect of gluten.
Should I be concern?
If you do suspect that you have celiac disease, it is important to undergo a blood test for an intestinal biopsy to get diagnosed. But diagnosing gluten-sensitivities is a large gray area for there isn’t any accepted medical test. Based on your symptoms, your doctor may advocate a gluten-free diet to determine if you are indeed gluten sensitive .
If you suspect that you are gluten sensitive however, it may worth a try to knock off gluten-related products and evaluate if you do feel better or consult your doctor for advice. There are alternatives with adequate nutrition that can replace common gluten products (like bread).
It seems that with a strong establishment that gluten can cause some problems in people with celiac disease, allergies and sensitivities it can affect the populace in varying degrees but without any harmful effects. Going gluten-free may help be beneficial in relieving certain symptoms that is similar to celiac, but can be Irritable Bowel Syndrome instead.
With that said, a final note relating to wheat, it seems that modern wheat has changed drastically throughout the years by processing and differs greatly from the older wheat varieties. In spite of the fortified nutrition, much of the original nutrients have been eliminated by removing the germ and bran . There could also be an increase in gliadin proteins of modern wheat, exacerbating the problems related to celiac disease.
“Daily-Bread – Can any human body handle gluten?” by Dr. Rodney Ford”
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