Health effects of gluten

Food containing gluten. Image via pixabay.

Many many years ago our ancestors were hunters and gatherers and so their diet consist of foods that they would hunt and gather like meat, fish, eggs, fruits, nuts, vegetables, etc. About 10,000 years ago humans started the domestication of animals and crops and as a result gluten containing grains like wheat became apart of their diet. This wheat however had changed a lot since then.

Some people are living a gluten-free lifestyle these days! The negative health effects that gluten has on their health is the reason why they're eating gluten-free foods. Do you think that you should? For your health? There are indeed health effects associated with gluten! In this blog post, I'll list these health effects. Also, it is important to know that not all persons are affected by gluten the same way and that some persons are not even affected at all.

Three (3) health conditions associated with gluten are:
  • Celiac disease
  • Gluten intolerance or non-celiac gluten intolerance
  • Dermatitis herpetiformis (DH)
Below are more about these health conditions!

1. Celiac disease

Certain factors have to be present for celiac disease to result in someone.

Some (there are more) factors that may cause celiac disease to occur are:
- Gluten consumption
Gluten has to be present in the body (more specifically the small intestine) for it to occur. Hence, if you don't eat it, you simply can't have it! As simple as that!

- "Gluten genes"
You are at risk of having this disease if you have specific genes that are linked to this disease. Additionally, it can run in families because genes are passed on from generations to you.

- An abnormal immune system

- Consuming too much gluten

- Exposed to gluten at a young age
At infancy in some countries, infants are given barley (a gluten containing grain) porridge to drink.

If the first factor and a combination of one or more factors (including other factors that aren't listed above) are present in someone, then celiac disease can result and below is what can happen.

When food that contains gluten is eaten it eventually make its way to the small intestine. Lining the inner surface of the small intestine are finger-like projections called villi. The villi is the part of the small intestine that is responsible for nutrient and water absorption from food. So therefore if you eat a bowl of pasta (or any other food), the nutrients and water from that bowl of pasta that your body needs will be extracted from it by your villi.

That gluten is mistaken for a harmful pathogen or a foreign invader by the immune system and so the immune system produces antibodies to destroy it. Additionally, that person's immune system will also attack the tissue of the lining of the small intestine (the villi), resulting in horrible consequences.  

Such consequences are:
  1. When the lining of the small intestine is destroyed it's ability to absorb those nutrients and water from food is reduced. 
  2. Abdominal cramping and diarrhea will also result. 
  3. As a result, your body will become deficient in nutrients which will eventually lead to serious health problems of the body.

In conclusion celiac disease basically causes your immune system to attack your own body (in this case the lining of the small intestine - villous atrophy). When this occurs, you are said to have an autoimmune reaction to gluten. So with celiac disease, you are gluten intolerant, but your gluten intolerance causes villous atrophy and that's what makes it the celiac disease.

2. Gluten intolerance or non-celiac gluten intolerance

Gluten intolerance or non-celiac gluten intolerance occurs when your body cannot tolerate gluten.
Celiac disease is one form of gluten intolerance. It is important to know that they are not the same. So, therefore, you can have gluten intolerance and not celiac disease. Non-celiac gluten intolerance does not cause villous atrophy.
If you have gluten intolerance, then you cannot tolerate gluten. Some symptoms are:
  • headaches
  • itchy skin
  • eczema
  • Dermatitis herpetiformis
  • gas
  • diarrhea
  • constipation
  • abdominal pain
  • villous atrophy
  • anemia (B12 or iron deficiency)
  • heartburn
  • fatigue
  • osteoporosis
  • weight loss
  • weight gain
  • depression


3. Dermatitis herpetiformis (DH)

This skin disease is another autoimmune disorder that is also caused by gluten intolerance. This skin disease produces a very itchy rash on the skin that is red and bumpy in appearance.

How does this occur?

The intestine's mucous membranes produce the antibody IgA (class A immunoglobulin). When gluten is consumed it combines with that antibody and enters into the bloodstream. It then finds its way on the reticulin fibers of the skin and stays there which triggers an autoimmune reaction and the rashes appear.

Concluding Remarks

All three of these medical conditions improve over time once gluten consumption is discontinued and you get the required treatments from your doctor. It takes a long time for all of the gluten that you have been eating to completely leave your system.