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By Clark’s Nutrition and Natural Foods Market

Q: “What is gluten and is it bad for me?” – a letter from Melisssa of Loma Linda

A: Gluten is a protein found primarily in wheat, rye, triticale and barley. A smaller protein found in gluten which is called gliadin is a “simple cereal protein” that can be problematic for some individuals as well. As for gluten being bad for you? This depends on whether or not you are gluten intolerant or gluten sensitive. Individuals that are gluten sensitive or allergic may have moderate to severe reactions when consuming gluten. People with Celiac disease (called Celiac Sprue originally) are often the most concerned with gluten. Celiac, once considered to be rare is being better diagnosed which is leading to a larger numbers of individuals being identified as gluten intolerant. Celiac individuals are considered to be DNA-gene susceptible for gluten intolerance. Often identified early in life, Celiac is also diagnosed later in adolescence as well. Celiac individuals who consume gluten respond with an immune (T-cell) reaction to gluten. This effect causes lesions on the intestinal lining and malabsorption, preventing nutrients from getting into the body, and is often accompanied by pain and diarrhea. Prevalence of Celiac disease is about 1 in every 1000-3000 individuals. Other gluten complications exist as well. Gluten is also a commonly known allergen to the U.S. population. There are also non-Celiac gluten sensitive (NCGS) Individuals. These people have allergy response gluten sensitivity. Symptoms of digestive complications such as gas, bloating and diarrhea along with general symptoms often overlap and make it difficult to distinguish between Celiac and non-Celiac conditions.

The avoidance of wheat is becoming a little on the ‘vogue’ side lately as well. One thing to remember about wheat is that it is considered to be a great source of nutrients. Although wheat is not native to the Western Hemisphere more than 1/3 of the world’s population utilize wheat as a main dietary staple. Some individuals suggest that a lot of the wheat berries in use today in the US have gone through decades of selective changes, and that older wheat like spelt are much easier to digest. This would also include the gluten protein in them. Although considered to be an allergen alternative by some people, it is not for all. If you are sensitive to wheat, consider other grains such as amaranth and quinoa as an alternative. This would allow you to make sure you are getting the full range of nutrients that your body needs.

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  1. McCane Understanding Pathophysiology 4th ed., Mosby St Louis, MO, 2008 pg 992-4, 1144,
  2. Micheal Murray ND, Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, Atria Books New York, NY. 2005 , pg 333-64
  3. Micheal Murray N.D., The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine 3rd ed., Atra New York, NY. 2012 Pg 402-6