Why Are So Many People Having Gluten Problems?
A lot of people are going gluten-free these days.
For some, it’s because they found out they have Celiac Disease (like me) or non-Celiac gluten intolerance. For others, it’s because they’ve noticed they feel tired, nauseous, or bloated every time they eat wheat, or because they’ve got chronic digestive issues they’re trying to sort out.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, 1 in 133 people in the U.S. have celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder where your immune system attacks and destroys the cilia (the lining of your small intestines) when gluten is present.
Symptoms of Celiac Disease
- Diarrhea, constipation, chronic gas, and smelly poop
- Chronic joint or muscle pain
- Weight Loss
- Skin problems like psoriasis, alopecia, hives
- Depression and Anxiety
- Autoimmune disorders
- Leg or arm numbness (neuropathy)
Research from the Cleveland Clinic reports that another whopping 6% of Americans are non-celiac gluten intolerant.
Symptoms of this can be quite severe, leading to chronic inflammation of the gut lining, aka “leaky gut.” This allows bacteria and partially digested particles into your blood and liver, triggering an immune response and creating systemic inflammation.
Symptoms of Gluten Sensitivity (non-Celiac)
- Diarrhea and Constipation
- Stomach Pain
- Headaches or Migraines
- Depression and anxiety
- Pain due to inflammation
- Brain Fog
But why are so many people suddenly having problems with gluten these days?
There are a lot of theories out there, and here are the ones science can agree on…
- People are more aware of Celiac and Gluten Intolerance, so are doing something about it.
- It was theorized that wheat has been hybridized to contain more gluten, especially in the U.S., to make the texture of wheat products “better.” So is there literally more gluten in wheat these days? Actually, no. Studies have found that while modern wheat contains less protein than in the past, gluten content is similar, although of slightly different composition.
- Poor diets full of processed foods high in sugar, salt and unhealthy fats and low nutritional value have damaged our digestion and immune systems. Couple that with much higher exposure to environmental toxins, like air pollution and the slew of chemicals in everything from personal care products to pesticides, and our bodies are under a lot of pressure.
- One theory that stands out, with compelling scientific evidence, is that Gluten sensitivity is because of Glyphosate, and other chemicals used on/in foods to a lesser extent.
What is Glyphosate, you ask?
It’s Round-up. Yes, the weed-killer people use in their yard.
Glyphosate is not just used to kill weeds. It’s sprayed heavily on crops before harvesting to desiccate (dry out) them for easier harvest. Food testing shows consistently high levels of glyphosate in the food supply in North America, the highest in the world.
While the EPA in the U.S. states that Glyphosate is considered safe, many countries have banned the use of Glyphosate as a crop desiccant, and some countries have banned it completely citing safety, including Mexico, which is phasing it out by 2024. In the U.S., there is an ever-growing number of municipalities banning its use, and Bayer (formerly Monsanto), under legal and public pressure after mounting scientific evidence as a carcinogen, will stop selling Glyphosate (Round-up) in the U.S. for home use in 2023.
A systematic review of studies done on the effect of Glyphosate on dysbiosis and wheat-sensitivity in 2020 found that there has been a dramatic increase in people reporting digestive issues like dysbiosis (gut bacteria out of whack), leaky gut, and gluten intolerance in the decades since the high use of Glyphosate became standard practice. (This is a good, detailed study if you have time to read it.)
Anecdotally, every year I have several Gluten Intolerant patients visit countries in Europe and miraculously be able to eat wheat with no issues. Thinking they’re cured, then they come home and eat wheat only to immediately have all their old symptoms recur. I hear the same from many other practitioners.
Glyphosate was originally thought to be safe for humans as it is only “poisonous” to plants and bacteria. However, its effect on the gut microbiome (the normal healthy bacteria needed for digestion) was, for reasons unknown, not taken into account.
The problem with Glyphosate as it relates to gluten intolerance and Celiac disease is that it kills the healthy bacteria in our guts that we need to properly digest food. (We’ll leave the other health problems linked to Glyphosate for another day.) This leads to gut inflammation, which then leads to “leaky gut,” triggering an immune response, systemic inflammation, and poor digestion. So it may be that a lot of people’s “gluten” sensitivity is actually a Glyphosate/chemical problem.
Should I Go Gluten-Free?
If you ticked off a lot of those symptoms listed above for Celiac or Gluten Intolerance, you should do a gluten elimination diet for at least one month.
- Completely cut all gluten out of your diet, no cheating, to allow your gut and immune system to calm down.
- Slowly reintroduce gluten to your diet and see how you feel. Most people can tell pretty fast –their symptoms have likely improved while they are off gluten, only to return within hours to a couple days.
Even if you don’t have many of the above symptoms, it can be helpful to remove or reduce gluten from your diet. It can not only help your digestion but help your health overall. To limit the amount of Glyphosate you ingest in general, try to eat organic food as much as you can.
For more information on Celiac Disease, visit The Celiac Disease Foundation.
See our separate Blog Post for recommendations on Gluten-Free brands, resources, and local restaurants.
Dr. Jennie Luther, DACM, L.Ac
Family Tree Acupuncture & Wellness