You have undoubtedly noticed an increasing number of products in the store advertising that they are gluten-free. But what is all the fuss about? Is this just another marketing scheme or health fad that people are latching onto? Is gluten something that the average healthy person needs to pay attention to?
Even if you do not have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, we hope that we can help you understand how this condition dramatically alters a person’s health and quality of living and why the availability of gluten-free products is so important to their lives.
Gluten is a naturally occurring protein found in some grains including wheat, barley, rye, and sometimes oats. Some of the characteristics of baked goods that we find desirable are attributed to the elasticity provided by gluten that helps the dough to rise and hold its shape while providing a chewy consistency. Many grains and flours have been specifically bred or altered to contain more gluten to improve some of these characteristics. Gluten may also be added into some food and pharmaceutical products because of the same properties it provides to baked goods.
Gluten-containing grains are used to make a wide variety of foods, meaning gluten is prevalent throughout the standard western diet. Gluten can be found in most breads, pastas, baked goods, cereals, breaded foods, sauces, soups, and processed foods. Gluten can even be found in some prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, and dietary supplements, however all Pinnaclife Supplements are gluten-free.
Celiac disease is a hereditary condition that involves an immune-mediated intolerance to gluten. When gluten is ingested, it triggers immune and inflammatory responses that damage the lining of the small and large intestines.1,2 This damage causes significant pain and discomfort while also interfering with proper digestion and nutrient absorption.
Even trace amounts of gluten can trigger symptoms like diarrhea, unhealthy weight loss or gain, and abdominal pain. It is also thought that the inflammatory response contributes to other conditions including bone pain, headaches, infertility, neurological disorders, reduced bone density, some cancers, other autoimmune disorders, and arthritis pain. Currently the only long-term treatment option for celiac disease is a well-balanced gluten-free diet.3
Celiac disease affects an estimated 1% of the American population, however it is also estimated that as many as 83% of people with celiac disease are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with another condition.
Celiac disease can be diagnosed by using blood tests that detect specific antibodies that your body produces when you ingest gluten. Doctors may also want to perform a biopsy of the intestine to confirm a diagnosis. These tests are only accurate when a person with Celiac disease are consuming gluten, so if you have been following a gluten-free diet the tests will not be accurate.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is essentially a mild form of celiac disease with less intense involvement from the immune system.4 The effects of gluten may be so mild that a person does not realize they have intolerance at all, instead attributing certain symptoms like fatigue, headaches, frequent illness, and inflammation to just being a normal part of everyday life. One reason for this is that gluten is found in so many foods that it is rare to go a single day without consuming it, making it difficult to link gluten consumption to any specific symptom. NCGS affects about 6% of the American population but does not appear to be a hereditary condition.
Unlike celiac disease, no current laboratory or histological tests can diagnose NCGS. Diagnosis of NCGS requires adopting a gluten-free diet for several weeks to months, followed by a monitored re-challenge with gluten.
People with NCGS will find that after adopting a gluten-free diet, they start feeling healthier and more energized. When reintroducing gluten into the diet, they experience a return of the symptoms that had previously been attributed as “part of normal life” or other health conditions such as joint pain, fatigue, headaches, allergies, and gastrointestinal problems.4,6
A popular theory about the cause of NCGS explores the effect gluten has on the balance of intestinal bacteria. The thought is that gluten may favor the growth of harmful bacteria that cause damage and inflammation to the intestinal lining instead of promoting growth of beneficial probiotic bacteria.5 The improper balance of intestinal bacteria is known to contribute to negative health effects throughout the entire body.
The surface of your digestive tract is covered with trillions of beneficial “probiotic” bacteria that serve as a layer of protection between you and the environment. There is a constant battle in your intestines between beneficial bacteria that help us, and pathogenic bacteria that can hurt us. The good "probiotic" bacteria help us by assisting with digestion of certain foods that we are unable to digest on our own. They can also help convert some nutrients like, Vitamin K, into forms that can be absorbed into our blood stream. Beneficial bacteria also secrete special compounds that can help to reduce inflammation in the intestines and throughout the entire body.8
Certain foods and medications can damage your intestinal mucosa through direct contact and also by disrupting your healthy intestinal bacteria.9 When the healthy bacteria are disrupted, we lose many of their beneficial properties including protection from pathogenic bacteria. This imbalance causes impaired digestion and absorption of nutrients plus potential damage and inflammation to the intestinal mucosa.8,10 These effects not only cause problems in the intestines, but throughout the entire body.
It appears that gluten can cause disruptions in the balance of the beneficial intestinal bacteria causing symptoms in people with both celiac disease and NCGS.5 Because of these effects on the intestinal mucosa and microbiome, people suffering from celiac disease and NCGS have a tougher time digesting some foods and absorbing their vital nutrients.11 This can lead to a number of nutritional deficiencies that have numerous negative health consequences throughout the body.
The most important step for people with celiac disease or NCGS is to eliminate gluten from the diet to start the healing process. People with severe cases need to also be aware that even trace amounts of gluten can cause symptoms. In addition to adopting a gluten-free diet, there are some other things that you can do to facilitate the healing process and bring your body back to optimum health. These steps can potentially benefit people with celiac, NCGS, and inflammatory bowel conditions that are not related to gluten, such as IBS and gastroenteritis.
Individuals living with celiac disease or NCGS can be prone to deficiencies of several key nutrients.1 Deficiencies initially occur due to impaired digestion and absorption of key nutrients due to inflammation of the lining of the intestines.11 Adopting a gluten-free diet can help heal the intestines, improving digestion and absorption of nutrients, however, an individual may still struggle to meet the recommended daily intake of key nutrients due to the gluten-free diet itself. This is because a gluten-free diet eliminates many foods that provide specific nutrients.
For example, folate deficiency was common until the United States began fortifying wheat flour with folic acid, providing one of the key dietary sources for the vitamin. Eliminating wheat flour from your diet could remove one of your primary sources of folate and other B vitamins. Additionally, many people obtain a significant portion of dietary fiber from whole grain products that usually contain gluten. A person eliminating whole grains from their diet may find that they are not ingesting enough fiber on a daily basis.
Some of the other common nutrient deficiencies associated with celiac disease and/or a gluten-free diet include:
Pinnaclife offers a unique scientifically researched line of gluten-free nutritional supplements that support a well-balanced, gluten-free diet. Pinnaclife supplements offer crucial dietary support to help people achieve their recommended daily intake of essential nutrients and reach their health goals.
If you have adopted a gluten-free diet, it is important for you to consider some of these potential nutrient deficiencies and be proactive to make sure your body continues receiving all of the nutrients it needs. Work closely with you trusted healthcare providers to find a diet and supplement regimen that works best for you to give you the best chance of staying healthy on a restricted diet.
Many people are misled into believing gluten-free food items are healthier for them than their gluten-containing alternatives. However, a gluten-free cookie is likely still loaded with similar unhealthy amounts of sugar and fat as a gluten-containing cookie.
Removing gluten from the diet may help improve a person’s health when it comes to gluten-triggered symptoms, however, it does not make an unhealthy food healthier for you with regards to overall fat, sugar, carbohydrate, and calorie intake.
A healthy and balanced diet that incorporates plenty of fresh produce and lean protein is naturally going to contain far less gluten compared to a diet heavy in processed foods, fast-food, and other junk foods. In this respect, a well-balanced gluten-free diet is likely healthier than the average American diet, especially when augmented with Pinnaclife MultiVitamin, Prebiotic Fiber, D3+ Magnesium, and Olivamine 10 Max.
Kyle Hilsabeck, PharmD., is the Vice President of Pharmaceutical Affairs at McCord Holdings and licensed by the Iowa Board of Pharmacy. He completed bachelors degrees in biology and biochemistry at Wartburg College before earning his Doctorate of Pharmacy from the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy. Upon graduation, he completed a community pharmacy practice residency through the University of Iowa where he focused primarily on nutritional aspects of care including the use of vitamin, mineral, and herbal supplements. He has taught courses for the University of Iowa College of Pharmacy on vitamins, minerals, herbs, and nutritional supplements and given many presentations on the subject as well. He has a passion for improving patient care specifically with regards to the safety and quality of the nutritional supplements and health information people use.
Disclaimer: These statements have not been reviewed by the FDA. These products are dietary supplements and are not intended to treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The decision to use these products should be discussed with a trusted healthcare provider. The authors and the publisher of this work have made every effort to use sources believed to be reliable to provide information that is accurate and compatible with the standards generally accepted at the time of publication. The authors and the publisher shall not be liable for any special, consequential, or exemplary damages resulting, in whole or in part, from the readers’ use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this article. The publisher has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third party Internet websites referred to in this publication and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.