Is that bread REALLY gluten-free? Perhaps not!

gluten_free_foodsMost people, including doctors, nutritionists, and dietitians, will tell you that only the following grains have gluten in them:

  • Wheat
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Spelt

This is simply not correct.  Let’s get this out-of-the-way right off the bat: ALL GRAINS CONTAIN GLUTEN.  Even Corn.  Even Rice.  Huh?  Scratching your head a little bit yet?  Keep reading:

What is Gluten? 

Grains are seeds that come from grass.  For example wheat grass sprouts wheat seeds (don’t worry, wheat grass itself without the seeds does not contain gluten.  Only the seeds do).  The purpose of a seed is to propagate the species (i.e. to start a new plant).  Gluten is a protein that is found in the seed of every single grain and it is used to feed the germ of the seed so that it sprouts a new grain or blade of grass.  Without gluten, EVERY grain would become extinct because they would not be able to propagate.  That includes ALL of the well-known “gluten-free” grains such as rice, corn, buckwheat, millet, etc.

So if you are being told that the only gluten containing foods are wheat, rye, barley, and spelt you are being (most likely unknowingly) misled.  Here is the truth: There are thousands of different gluten proteins, most of which have never even been studied yet to see if they can be attributed to health risks such as gut irritation, inflammation in the body, and autoimmune diseases.   The specific gluten protein that is in wheat, barley, rye, and spelt is called gliadin.  If you have celiac disease or even a slight intolerance to gliadin, you definitely need to eliminate any and all foods that have even a hint of gliadin in them.  Fortunately, this means getting rid of most of the food that makes people fat (bread, pasta, cereal, croissants, pizza, cake, cookies, etc) as well as just about every processed food on the shelves in your grocery store.

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac is an autoimmune disease of the small intestine.  There are an estimated 3 million people suffering from celiac disease in the United States (including undiagnosed).  In celiac, the gliadin protein is actually causing the immune system to attack the tissues in your body.  It is a genetic inability to digest gliadin properly (tTG is used by the body to digest gliadin in a non-celiac individual.  In celiac, tissue transglutaminase (tTG) reacts with gliadin to produce antibodies called anti-tTGA which triggers inflammation of the gut.  Once this happens chain reactions cause damage to the small intestine.  The breakdown of gut function cascades into other serious health conditions.

Celiac disease is what made the gliadin protein in wheat so popular.  It was discovered in the 1940’s by a German doctor during World War II.  At that time there was a shortage of grain so grain was not available to most people in Germany.  There were kids in a hospital with Celiac disease and once the grain was removed from their diets their conditions improved, effectively going into remission.  When the war ended and grains were reintroduced into their diets, the kids became sick again.  The doctor noted this correlation and that marked the discovery of the relationship between gluten and Celiac.  That is why even still today, when people think of gluten, they think of wheat, barley, and rye.

What happens in my body if I have a sensitivity to gliadin?

Gluten sensitivity is very different from celiac disease.  It is not a genetic or autoimmune disorder.  However, gliadin sensitivity is also very dangerous and must be addressed.  It is estimated that millions of Americans have sensitivity to gliadin and are undiagnosed because the symptoms of gliadin sensitivity are so broad.  If you have a sensitivity to gliadin (or ANY gluten proteins, for that matter) it will cause inflammation in the small intestine and it will cause increased intestinal permeability or “leaky gut”.

What is leaky gut?

Without getting too technical, as I’d likely lose half of my audience, the role of your small intestine is to let nutrients through and into your bloodstream and to keep undigested food particles, toxins, bacteria, stool and any other substances that have no business being in your bloodstream out.  The nutrients pass through the gut barrier through “tight junctions” and into your bloodstream where they can be transported to the cells of your body and provide nutrition.  In a healthy gut, everything else passes through your small intestine and out through your stool.

Leaky gut is representative of those microscopic tight junctions widening just enough to let other substances besides nutrients into your bloodstream, such as undigested food particles, toxins, bacteria, feces, etc.  When this happens, your immune system goes into full-blown attack mode.  Picture a dozen fire trucks racing to put out a 4 alarm fire.  That is what happens in your body between your immune system and the foreign particles that are now in your blood stream.  Your body wants them destroyed and eliminated through your urine or feces.  The immune reaction causes widespread inflammation in your body and serious irritation to your gut lining.  Eventually, the small intestine loses its ability to properly digest and absorb nutrients (see blunted brush border and villous atrophy).  In addition, the systemic low-grade inflammation that occurs in the body and is associated with leaky gut can create a fertile environment for the growth of illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, and a whole slew of autoimmune diseases (crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, MS, IBS, etc.).

There are many gut irritants that can cause leaky gut.  Gliadin is just one of them.  Others are:

  • Antibiotics (through your own use as well as ingesting meat and milk from animals treated with them).
  • Chemicals such as formaldehyde in our carpets and wood cabinets and from everyday household products.
  • Toxins.
  • Alcohol and drug consumption.
  • Other food sensitivities (soy, cow’s milk, eggs, corn food dyes, etc.)
  • Sugar consumption.
  • Hormonal imbalances.

How do I know if I have a sensitivity to gliadin?  

The best way to find out if you have any sensitivity to gliadin is to use the observation and elimination method:

  1. Spend a few days thinking of all of the symptoms that you may experience that gliadin intolerance is known to cause.  The list is extremely long and broad but it includes: Diarrhea and/or constipation, heartburn, stomach aches, bloating, flatulence, chronic fatigue, brain fog, headaches (including migraines), skin rashes, and/or eczema, and joint pain or stiffness.Again that’s only a partial list of the symptoms that gliadin intolerance can cause.
  2. Use a journal to write down all of the symptoms you feel on a regular basis.
  3. Eliminate all foods that contain gliadin from your diet for at least 2 weeks.
  4. Use the journal to note if any of your typically regular symptoms subside.  If even a few of the symptoms do subside, you very likely have a sensitivity to gliadin, and you should continue to eat gluten-free.

If you would like a more formal method of testing for gliadin sensitivity there are several lab tests that I have access to:

  1. You can run a mucosal barrier function screen (saliva) which will indicate whether you have elevated antibodies to one or all of the 5 generally recognized allergen proteins: gliadin, corn, cow’s milk, soy, and eggs.  This is a useful screen because although it doesn’t 100% narrow down WHICH dietary protein it is that you are reactive to, it can show if your immune system is in high gear and fighting something off as well as whether or not you may have leaky gut (increased intestinal permeability), gut dysbiosis (an imbalance between the “good” and “bad” bacteria in your gut), and an overgrowth of yeast in your body.  This is an excellent first step in assessing overall gut function.
  2. You can run a gluten intolerance/celiac screening (blood) which will tell you with a high probability of accuracy whether or not you have elevated antibodies against gliadin.

There are some drawbacks to the testing though, as ALL gluten sensitivity tests screen ONLY for gliadin and no other gluten proteins.  Remember, EVERY grain has gluten.  Gliadin is only ONE gluten protein that has been studied.  The rest of them have yet to be studied and may or may not cause gut irritation.

If you have even the slightest sensitivity to gliadin, I strongly recommend that you not only eat gluten-free, but GRAIN-FREE.  This will ensure that you truly steer clear of ALL gluten, help your small intestine heal, and decrease the inflammation in your body.  

I hope that this helps clear up some of the misinformation out there about gluten.

For more information on the available gliadin tests you can schedule a free 20 minute consultation with me by clicking here.

Thanks for reading and feel free to leave questions or comments.


Rick Gold, Functional Wellness Practitioner

Gold Functional Wellness, Inc.

Follow me on Twitter: @RickGoldFWP


Disclaimer: The entire contents of this website are based upon the opinions of the author, unless otherwise noted.  The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information from the research and experience of the author.  Rick is not a doctor, nutritionist, or dietician and he does not claim to diagnose, treat, or cure disease.

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