I was inspired to write this blog today after being "glutened" two days ago, and I'm still feeling the effects... Gluten is a big no-no if you're autoimmune (keep reading to find out why), but first, a little story about how I discovered gluten was an issue for me.
Back in 2011, I was experiencing excruciating headaches and sinus pain, neck and shoulder muscle pain and extreme fatigue (this was before my ME/CFS diagnosis). I tried paracetamol, ibuprofen and over-the-counter sinus meds, I'd had my eyes tested, my workstation at work checked by occupational health but nothing had helped. I'd been to the doctor and was told to take 6 tablets (2 each of paracetamol, ibuprofen and Sudafed) 4 times a day, for 7 days (yes really!).
I didn't fancy 24 tablets a day, so I decided to have a massage to see if that helped. I told the therapist my woes and she asked if she could try something. She put something on my chest and asked me to move my arms against her hands, and then told me she thought I had a problem with gluten - "give it up for 3 days and see how you feel" she said. (I now know this was kinesiology, and I still see this very gifted practitioner to this day).
And so I did. Within a couple of days, it felt like a boulder had been lifted from my shoulders, my head felt clear for the first time in years, and I could move my shoulders again - it was life-changing!
A few days later I went to a festival, and had some noodles - what harm could it do? BIG mistake, HUGE! My shoulders started to hurt, the pain shot up to my head, my neck froze and the headache was so immense we had to go home early.
So no more gluten for me. Of course there were accidental slip-ups - restaurant chips coated with flour, sushi with soy sauce (made with wheat, who knew?!) But I did my research, checked my labels and did my best to avoid. Until 2 days ago - damn you sweet chilli crisps! I started to feel all the usual symptoms and thought about what I had eaten, checked the crisp packet, and there it was, dried soy sauce (i.e. highly concentrated gluten).
So how can gluten by a problem? Here's a bit of science:
Coeliac disease is a genetic auto-immune disease in which an immune response to gluten damages the lining of the small intestine
Wheat allergy is an adverse immune reaction to wheat that generates IgE antibodies (and is actually quite rare)
Gluten sensitivity is considered an immune response to gluten which doesn't cause damage to the small intestine, but can cause other symptoms.
Gluten intolerance is a bit of a misnomer, as intolerance refers to reduces of lack of enzymes to digest certain food components - like lactose intolerance. According to gluten expert Dr Alessio Fasano, none of us have the enzyme to fully break down the gluten protein, but in the same way not everyone succumbs to infection when exposed to bacteria, not everyone will experience issues with gluten.
Gluten sensitivity symptoms:
Gut issues include bloating, constipation, abdominal pain and diarrhoea
Depression & anxiety Joint and muscle pain
Fatigue - ever felt sleepy after a high gluten meal? See this blog for more info about food sensitivities can make you tired.
Gluten also triggers the release of zonulin, a protein which opens up the tight junctions of the small intestinal lumen, leading to intestinal permeability or leaky gut. This is considered by many as a contributory factor in the development of inflammation and autoimmunity - put very simply, the gaps in the layer of the small intestine caused by gluten, zonulin and a host of other things (see the visual below), allows substances to enter the blood stream that shouldn't be there. The immune system then (quite rightly) mounts an immune response to these invaders - that's it's job - causing the release of inflammatory immune cells.
What's more, the gluten protein "looks" a lot like thyroid tissue, so the immune system can get confused and attack the thyroid instead - this is called molecular mimicry.
Should you avoid gluten?
If you have an autoimmune disease, then yes, absolutely. These include Hashimoto's and Grave's disease, Rheumatoid Arthritis and skin conditions such as Eczema and Psoriasis.
If there's no autoimmunity and you're suffering with some of the above symptoms, the gold standard of testing if any food is an issue with you is to eliminate it completely for a minimum of 2 weeks
If you feel certain foods are contributing to your symptoms, remembering that in many cases, it’s not the food that’s the issue, but the environment - the gut. Dysbiosis, or gut bacteria imbalance, inflammation and intestinal permeability can make us more sensitive to foods, and often it's the things we eat most often that are most problematic - the dose makes the poison, as they say. So the Nutritional Therapy approach involves removing the offenders, healing the gut, and then reintroducing foods in a controlled way.
Is gluten a factor in your fatigue? Why not book a FREE discovery call to discover how nutritional therapy may help?
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The content on this webpage is not intended to constitute or be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.