Gluten-free diet has been a diet fad for quite some time. Those who are seriously into healthy eating would know exactly what “gluten” is. However, many people still do not completely understand what it is. It is something “they” say that it is bad for you.
So, What Is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein composite found in wheat and other grains such as barley, rye, oats, triticale and spelt. You may be surprised to know that even corn and rice contain gluten and that corn can produce the same reaction as wheat in gluten sensitive people. Gluten means “glue” in Latin as it is the substance that acts as “glue” to hold and keep the shape of food. It gives elasticity to dough and creates a chewy texture on the finished products, e.g. bread, baked goods, pasta.
Because gluten is commonly used as a filler in many processed foods, there are some other products beside those obvious wheat and rye related foods that may contain gluten. The example of these products are soy sauce, salad dressing and some cream-based soups, etc.
Common Health Threats Caused by Gluten
Once you have consumed products that contain gluten, the gluten molecule enters your body and is exposed to the immune system. Your body’s immune system falsely believes that it is an intruder that needs to be attacked and eliminated. Unfortunately, attacking the gluten results in attacking your own body. For people with gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance, this is the start of how gluten can create negative effects on your health.
Even if you do not suffer from gluten sensitivity or celiac disease (a severe form of gluten sensitivity), many studies show that there is still a high chance for you to experience the same unpleasant reaction to gluten.
Besides the adverse effects around the digestive system organs, studies show that gluten also plays an important role in another human body system. It is the organ that not many people would expect to be affected by gluten. It is the brain!
Gluten and Brain Functional Disorders
As bizarre as it may sound, gluten also has a harsh effect on the brain. Studies show a significant relationship between gluten and hypoperfusion or decreased blood flow to the brain within the frontal cortex.
Reduced blood flow to an organ will lessen the availability of oxygen (hypoxia) and nutrients required for the function of the organ.
In this case, insufficient oxygen and nutrients to the frontal lobes which is responsible for all the executive functions as well as other functions such as movement, balance and coordination, and talking ability can lead to several functional disorders such as schizophrenia, autism, and epilepsy.
In 2004, researchers from the Institute of Internal Medicine of the Catholic University in Rome, Italy, conducted a study with impressive results that underline the link between the disturbed blood flow in the brain and gluten intolerance.
The study concluded that more than 50% of patients with untreated celiac disease had at least one area of hypoperfusion in the brain, while the celiac patients who had been on a gluten-free diet had the same cerebral perfusion level as those of healthy people with no gluten intolerance.
In short, the study, which was later published in the American Journal of Medicine, demonstrated that “there is an evidence of regional cerebral blood flow alteration in the untreated celiac patients.”
How Does Gluten Disrupt the Blood Flow in the Brain?
The author of the bestselling book “Grain Brain”, Dr. David Perlmutter, explained that the carbohydrate composition of grains alone can create an unwanted effect on the insulin-mediated glucose homeostasis within neurons (brain cells), and ultimately lead to the decrease or cessation of their ability to function.
While the above explanation is not exactly about the association between gluten consumption and brain function, the discovery that wheat contains properties that disturb the blood flow has weighty implications.
Even though is not yet clear exactly how gluten can interfere with blood flow in the brain areas that lead to neurological disorders, there are enough studies and a growing body of evidence to support the precautionary decision to avoid food that contains gluten. It is quite obvious that jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon will bring you more benefits than harm. Avoiding gluten also means avoiding various kinds of unhealthy processed food. A gluten-free diet can help improve digestion, maintain a healthy weight, improve sleep and promote overall better health.