Why Gluten Is NOT The Full Story – The Real Reason Wheat Triggers an Immune Response
- Published on: 06 December, 2016
- Last update: 07 August, 2017
How many of you have cut gluten from your diet at one point or another in an attempt to heal your gut or reverse chronic illness?
I feel that, because I am one of those people who keeps gluten to a minimum in order to maintain an optimal state of health. This is not necessarily because I ‘have’ to. In fact, I knew I had finally beaten the worst of my health disorders (including severe IBS) when I *could* eat gluten without problems again for the first time.
Gluten intolerance and the many reactions that come with it are real – but marking bread as evil isn’t the full story, or the final solution. We have to look at why the body is reacting, which leads us to a deeper imbalance involving your digestive tract, zinc levels and stomach acid.
Now, I’m certainly not saying wheat/bread is a “healing food” that should be a staple in your diet. However, many cultures consumed it regularly before our time without any issues. The fact that our generation is experiencing digestive trouble and inflammation tells me two things:
- The WHEAT we’re eating today is different – which it is. Modern wheat is not genetically modified, BUT has been hybridized the last 50 years to such an extent that it has created over 14 totally foreign strains of gluten we’re not used to breaking down.
- Our BODIES are different – Due to the chemicals saturating our environment, high stress levels, nutrient deficient soil, and more (you know the drill); our bodies are not breaking down proteins in food properly. Our zinc levels have plummeted, which has directly compromised our stomach acid (HCL) production. Those new hybridized gluten proteins don’t get completely broken down, and they get through the figurative “brick wall” of our intestines. These fragmented proteins are what cause immune reactions and inflammation, as the body creates anti-gliadin (gluten) antibodies.
If you or your child are dealing with chronic illness, digestive complaints, autoimmunity, a neurological disorder like autism, or ANYTHING else that involves inflammation and immune reactions — it *is* helpful and often quite necessary to avoid gluten during the healing period (even though it’s not a permanent solution to your root problem). That’s because while your stomach acid/zinc levels (and thus digestion) are compromised, gluten proteins cannot be fully broken down and cause inflammation, point blank. Inflammation of any kind prevents healing, because cells can only be in one mode at a time: inflammation or repair. You wouldn’t start rebuilding a house while it was still on fire!
The good news is, you don’t have to avoid gluten forever. I mentioned earlier that I keep it to a minimum, but don’t avoid it completely. Although I was once gluten free during the peak of my healing journey (which I’ll explain in a second), I now include very modest amounts of ‘ancient wheat’ strains – such as Einkorn or Spelt – when the mood strikes.
This means I usually buy organic pasta that’s imported from Italy (you’d be surprised that the price isn’t so different since it’s an abundant grain). European countries such as Italy don’t use America’s hybridized monster strain, so it’s much easier to find pasta made with spelt this way. Also, the soil in America is overfarmed, nutrient depleted, and often contaminated with chemical runoff or pesticides. I feel I’m playing it a little safer buying from less industrialized farmland (and whenever I go to Italy in the summer my digestion is SO much better anyway – they are doing something right!)
How to Fix the Underlying Problem
As Dr. Igor Tabrizian says, “cutting out these foods (gluten) only hides the problem.” As I explained, you can find immediate relief and speed (or even initiate) healing by cutting out gluten in the short term. That’s a very wise thing to do if you’re ill and inflamed. But in order to heal in the long term and get to where you can fully digest proteins again, you have to work on restoring your zinc levels — and thus, your stomach acid. Like I said, people have been eating wheat for centuries before us. It’s not that our current generation has a permanent wheat intolerance; we simply don’t have enough zinc to create the stomach acid and enzymes needed to properly digest the large molecules/gliadin (gluten) proteins within it.
In my research and personal experience, zinc is one of the most widely depleted minerals (right up there with magnesium)! The U.S. population is hit hard thanks to our modern lifestyle, diet, and chemical/stress exposure. Many more are suspected to have levels that are not considered ‘deficient,’ but are certainly less than ideal. Sub-clinical deficiencies are the ones that really get us, because they’re not severe enough to raise flags on a lab, but are certainly low enough to prevent certain enzymatic reactions from occurring in the body. Zinc in particular affects digestive enzymes and the enzymes required to convert beta-carotene to active Vitamin A (retinol). I hope that mineral tests in the future look for levels of these enzymes, rather than a general amount of zinc that may not be everyone’s ideal number. You can also have proper levels of zinc according to Western medicine, yet that zinc is ‘blocked’ due to the presence of heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium, and aluminum. Dr. Igor Tabrizian states that 1 molecule of mercury blocks 1000 molecules of zinc.
You can assess your level of deficiency with a Zinc Assay test (where you swish a zinc sulfate liquid in your mouth to see if you can taste it. If it’s not a strong metallic taste, you are deficient). Most people with digestive difficulty and chronic illness need to supplement with this important mineral, and it’s something I don’t go a day without!
Your permanent solution is to a) increase your zinc intake, and b) support your stomach acid (HCL) production until zinc levels normalize and your body can create stomach acid on its own. Zinc, being a major component of stomach acid, plays a main role in HCL production in the first place. It also activates digestive enzymes such as aminopeptidase and carboxypeptidase, which is why it comes first and supplemental HCL is only needed temporarily until levels normalize.
Another aspect to work on that will help you to digest ALL your food better, not just gluten, is your beneficial gut bacteria. Again, most of us with chronic illness have a poor balance of good vs. bad gut bacteria, which ties right back into proper zinc levels. The antimicrobial properties of zinc make it ideal as a bowel ‘bug policeman,’ and proper levels keep the chance of dysbiosis (and disorders like SIBO) very low. As you know, I created my own parasite cleanse after years of low immunity and nutrient deficiencies (such as zinc) kept my gut in constant dysbiosis. I generally cleanse once a year, and zinc + probiotics are my ultimate maintenance tools that I supplement each day to keep up my gut health.
Zinc is also needed for the repair of damaged tissue, so this wonder mineral makes sure that the whole intestinal tract is repaired, especially in the case of leaky gut. (Check out this study: Zinc supplementation tightens “leaky gut” in Crohn’s disease)
Nowadays, the reason I can finally eat gluten in moderation without a crazy immune/inflammation response is because I’ve done some serious work on healing the root problem: my gut and digestion.
- I’ve been taking zinc for a long time now (I use Douglas Labs Zinc Picolinate, taken with meals)
- I’ve restored the balance of bacteria in my gut (using my parasite cleanse to clear the pathogenic organisms, and probiotics to restore the good guys)
- and I’ve worked on bringing up my stomach acid so that I can fully break down the proteins in my food without leaving partially-digested fragments open to attack from antibodies.
I have a full blog post on how to increase your stomach acid and improve digestion here, and as you’ll see in point #1, it always comes back to zinc. HCL supplements or apple cider vinegar can break down your food in the meantime and minimize discomfort, but zinc is your long term fix so that you don’t have to stay on those forever.
For some people, gluten is something that’s easy to give up – they don’t miss it and don’t care to take the chance of creating a cascade of autoimmune reactions upon ingestion. And as I said, if you’re sick right now and suffering from symptoms such as fatigue/food intolerances, I would leave the gluten out of your diet. The body needs to heal, and remember that it’s either inflamed or repairing — not both. But for those of you who dream of being reunited with a fresh baguette, this is for you. Zinc played a huge role in my healing, and although it’s just one piece of the puzzle, it changed my life. I hope that we can continue to learn together how to heal ourselves from the epidemic of chronic/immune disorders that are popping up, and I look forward to sharing my research in my next post. Lots of love! x