Gluten Myths Debunked: The Truth About Gluten and Those Suffering from Gluten-Related Disorders

Dec 22, 2015 01:40 PM EST | By Denise Valerie Uychiat

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Alessio Fasano is the founder and director of the Center for Celiac Research & Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and the author of "Gluten Freedom." She spoke to the Washington Post and described how she founded the center and how her journey started.

Fasano recalled the time the Coelic center started which was almost 20 years ago, writers don't even know how to spell the word "coelic," and only a few people knew what "gluten" is. One of the goals of the center is to raise awareness about coeliac disease to be able to help improve the quality of life for those people suffering from gluten-related disorders.  And it has come a long way since they first started.

These days, a lot of people have an idea of what gluten is, but unfortunately they still have a pretty poos understanding about what it really is and how it can be incorporated into a healthy diet. Gluten is a component of wheat, and it helps the bread rise and gives it its chewy texture.

It is a complex protein which is also similar to secalin and hordein, which can be found in barley and rye. Those with gluten-related disorder can't digest these three proteins. They combined the three together and just called it gluten. Coeliac disease is a lifelong disorder, and these proteins create a catastrophe on the small intestine.

For most of us however, it's a totally different story. Here are some of the most commonly believed myths about gluten:

Our bodies are not meant to process gluten, so no one should eat it.

Many people these days have only bad things to say about wheat. Having it in your diet "raises blood sugar levels, causes immunoreactive problems, inhibits the absorption of important minerals, and aggravates our intestines," said a famous bioethicist and futurist blogger George Dvorksy. As unfair as it may sound, gluten has been taking blame for a lot of diseases outside gluten-related disorders, and was suggested to be permanently stricken out of anyone's diet for life.  Although it is true that the bodies of those with problems digesting gluten don't have the enzymes to break these proteins down, in most cases, the immune system is able to "clean" the invasion of gluten in the body and can function well again after doing so. But for the 1% of humans with coeliac disease, the immune system can't handle the cleanup. Instead, it produces autoantibodies that attack tissues from the small intestine, causing inflammation and destruction.

This further leads to malabsorption of nutrients that causes myriad symptoms, gastrointestinal symptoms in people with this autoimmune disease. Other people without the disease or allergic to wheat may sometimes find their body react to gluten-containing grains after they have eaten them.

Gluten sensitivity doesn't really exist.

A few years ago, the center had an issue about those who react poorly to gluten but had no diagnostic or histological markers enough to diagnose them with coeliac disease. Eventually, the group published a paper calling the condition "non-coeliac gluten sensitivity" or "gluten sensitivity." Celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Novak Djokovic have openly expressed the benefits of going gluten-free. However, ever since that happened, and because of conflicting studies many have made fun of this lifestyle calling it a "fad" diet by people, such as cookbook author and culinary historian Clifford Wright.  

Until just recently when the term "coeliac disease" and "gluten sensitivity" were used in a medical literature by Amy Brown in her 2012 article in Expert Review in Gastroenterology & Hepatology.  Even though the symptoms are alike, the two conditions are entirely different metabolically speaking. There is no intestinal inflammation in non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, and also some people think that those with gluten-related disorder can tolerate small amounts of gluten which is entirely incorrect.

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