Symptoms of wheat or gluten intolerance overlap with just about every other chronic illness from A to Z. Food allergies are immediately obvious when expressed as rashes, respiratory problems, excessive mucus or headaches.
But gluten intolerance lurks in the background with a more delayed, if not subtle action, causing anaemia, asthma, attention deficit disorder, cancer, autoimmune diseases and even miscarriages. Wheat products are eaten at just about every meal and snack throughout the day, all over the world. Is there a way to find out if gluten is really the cause of so many ills?
Gluten is a complex vegetable protein that imparts elasticity to dough made from wheat and rye. It is present to a lesser degree in oats and barley. Very few people have the necessary enzymes to break down gluten or offset the harmful effects of wheat lectins.
For the rest of us, undigested gluten particles invoke no obvious reaction. But they upset the digestion nevertheless, causing impaired food assimilation, malnutrition, leaky gut, allergies to milk, mucous problems and insulin resistance. So we keep eating more and more bread thinking that it is good for us because it provides essential vitamins and minerals. With gluten intolerance the immune system is also compromised. One is more prone to inflammation and microbial or parasitic infestations. Gluten makes gut linings permeable and undigested molecules escape into soft tissue, alerting the immune system.
TESTING FOR INTOLERANCES
Blood tests can be done but are not recommended for those who have already given up gluten. Most information sources recommend that you abstain from gluten for four weeks, starting with wheat. If symptoms begin to improve, keep it up. In many cases where digestion has been severely impaired it may be necessary to omit all gluten, as well as dairy products, yeast and fructose. A steady improvement indicates that you had these intolerances.
Most practitioners of integrative medicine offer diagnostic services such as the SCIO or BEST systems, which involve electronic or biofeedback processes, to indicate whether a patient can tolerate gluten or not. The intrinsic reaction to the food samples containing gluten can be monitored – without having to take blood samples! This process is non-invasive and makes the diagnosis more decisive.
THE DO-IT-YOURSELF TEST
Muscle testing can be used to determine food intolerances. Press down on the fist of the patient’s outstretched arm and let the patient resist your push. He or she should hold a sample in the opposite hand over the solar plexus. Establish a normal ‘good’ and ‘bad’ response using appropriate samples, e.g. a cell phone for bad, nothing for normal, and a rooibos teabag or something healthy for good. Put food samples in identical, numbered containers: bread, pasta, cheese, apple, walnut, etc. Test randomly a few times without either of you knowing which food is inside the container. Tabulate the results and tally up the gluten reactions.
THE WORST OF THE WORST
Bran (contained in brown bread) is indigestible and contains phytic acid. Your bones are stripped of calcium in order to neutralise it. So it contributes to osteoporosis. Diets laden with refined carbohydrates, gluten, phosphates and disagreeable lectins from other grains you are sensitive to cause extreme acidity, not only in the intestines but also in the bloodstream and soft tissue. Acidity reduces the oxygen supply to cells, making us tired, and encourages cancer cells to proliferate. When the urine is too acidic, skeletal calcium binds up the acid and forms kidney stones. This is another symptom of osteoporosis. Wheat germ can set off autoimmune reactions like fibromyalgia and arthritis. Glucosamine supplements help to bind or de-activate wheat proteins. But should we keep on eating wheat every day?
FOOD SENSITIVITY AND FOOD CRAVINGS
You may think your body craves what it needs, but it may be an allergenic addiction that perpetuates a toxic loop inside your system. People believe that just a little of what they fancy can do no harm, but that’s like giving an alcoholic a glass of wine. Gluten and other foods that do not agree with you trigger off mind-enhancing painkillers called opioids to try and ease the unpleasant and toxic effects they cause. If you feel sleepy after your sandwiches or have indigestion yet you crave more starchy snacks, you may have become addicted to the narcotic (but actually toxic) effect they have on you.
Obesity is caused by fat cells swelling up to try and absorb poisons like trans-fatty acids, preservatives, excessive salt and artificial flavours. Toxins are trapped in fat cells to protect vital organs from being damaged. However, they also attach to unused glucose molecules and bloat up with water to form a toxic waste dump. The hormone oestrogen stimulates this effect and prevents glucose from returning to the bloodstream when required for energy.
Oestrogen also interferes with thyroid hormones that burn fat and speed up the metabolism. Feeling depressed triggers off cravings for sugar, and being low in serotonin you crave more of it. The body bypasses its own fat or glycogen (energy) reserves if it is deficient in potassium, found in fresh vegetables, blackstrap molasses and other healthy foods. When you keep snacking on energy drinks, sandwiches, chocolate and pizza to get through the day, the glycogen reserves are not released. The excess sugar settles on your hips instead. The gluten stays trapped in your gut and you go to the doctor because you feel off colour – perhaps you take anti-depressants, slimming pills or something for pain, constipation and lethargy. But have you ever dug down to the real cause of the trouble? Could it be wheat or gluten? Don’t think that a so-called balanced diet is any good if it contains gluten and you have symptoms of gluten intolerance. Your problem will persist, even if it is still undetected. How many people tell you that they eat healthily and then complain of bowel problems, skin disorders, fatigue, asthma and weight gain? They balance out all that bread and pasta with fruit juice and bran muffins! People actually take offence when one suggests that they cut out the wheat for a while to see if things improve.
SYMPTOMS OF GLUTEN INTOLERANCE
We cannot take pills to cure wheat or gluten intolerances. Make a list of your personal complaints from the list of symptoms described, then challenge yourself to a gluten-free month and note the changes.
Hormonal: Addison’s disease (adrenal malfunction), amenorrhoea (absence of menstruation), spontaneous infertility, sperm abnormalities, abortions and low-birth-weight babies, chronic fatigue, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, and insulin-dependent diabetes.
Digestive: Irritable bowel syndrome, gastrointestinal distress (gas, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, vomiting, reflux), coeliac disease, autoimmune hepatitis, gallbladder disease, primary biliary cirrhosis of the liver, chronic abdominal pain, Crohn’s disease, malnutrition, pancreatic disorders, and mineral deficiencies.
Respiratory: Sinusitis, postnasal drip, mucous congestion, some cases of asthma, snoring.
Mental: ADD/ADHD (attention deficit disorders), headaches (including migraines), moodiness/ depression, inability to concentrate or learn, seizures, Down’s syndrome, epilepsy, ataxia (reflex disturbance), sleepiness after lunch.
Structural (blood and tissues): Anaemia, low iron, bone/joint/muscle pain, osteoporosis, peripheral neuropathy, tingling numbness in the legs, vasculitis, mouth sores, weak tooth enamel, multiple sclerosis, chronic back pain.
Skin: Psoriasis, vitiligo (white patches on the skin), dermatitis herpetiformis (pimply rash related to coeliac disease), hair loss not associated with male-type baldness, recurrent stomatitis (inflamed mucous membranes of the mouth), and eczema.
Metabolic and systemic: Weight loss/gain (unstable metabolism), obesity, systemic lupus (autoimmune disease), bursitis, rheumatoid arthritis, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, bowel cancer and other types of cancer, total immunoglobulin A deficiency (antibodies).
DEALING WITH GLUTEN INTOLERANCE
Persist – cut out the cause of all your toxic misery, namely sugar, starches, fatty fries and wheat snacks. Compensate with multivitamin supplements that contain zinc and chrome. Take your omega-3 oils as well as calcium and magnesium. Drink a lot of freshly made fruit, herb and vegetable juices to energise and flush the system clean. Eat mainly fruit, vegetable dishes and salads, and have small protein snacks like nuts, eggs or cheese every few hours to shut down the effects of overactive insulin and cortisol. If symptoms still linger, then persist for a few more weeks and eliminate all rye, oats and barley as well. Try rice cakes instead. Once significant improvements have been achieved, have your medications reviewed as some of them may become unnecessary.
Gluten intolerance can negate the value of popular ‘healthy’ food choices like whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, rye, barley and pasta. Eliminating these foods is preferable to taking cortisone, anti-inflammatory drugs, bronchial dilators and painkillers, or having to live with these conditions. Cancer therapy and gut surgery are not the best way to deal with hidden food intolerances either! Get to the cause and fix it. Most conditions respond quickly to a gluten-free diet – congestion clears up and energy bounces back. Try it for yourself!
Editor’s note: Most people who are intolerant to gluten find that they are not affected by oats. We asked nutritionist Heidi du Preez what gluten intolerance really means.
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2. D’Adamo P. Live Right for your Type. New York: Penguin. 2001.