The Gluten Piece

I know, I know, everyone has heard the term ‘gluten-free’ by now. In fact, some are sick and tired of hearing it, annoyed at how fad-ridden modern health and nutrition has become. But, this is one fad that has serious solidity.

It’s not true for everyone, and some lucky folk can enjoy glutinous products daily. However, I believe there are many more gluten-sensitive individuals than realize it. I was one of them my whole life. When I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, I dove into books, articles and seminars on human physiology like a hot person diving into a lake on a summer’s day. That’s when I discovered how big a piece of the health puzzle gluten really is.

Hashimoto’s is always seen in conjunction with what has become known as a ‘leaky gut’, which is common for intestinal permeability. Even if you don’t have an auto-immune condition, it is important to understand the concept of intestinal permeability. The symptoms can be subtle, but the health implications can haunt you down the road if this is left unhealed. The small intestine is an important organ, and when it becomes permeable – when it has small holes in it – bad things happen. Particles that are not supposed to escape into the bloodstream, now can.

Out-of-control sugar or yeast can actually poke holes in your intestinal wall. Yeast is a powerful substance that when fed, grows aggressively. I never had typical systems of yeast, but I’m pretty sure I had a systemic yeast that caused havoc. So, even if you don’t have the usual symptoms such as yeast infections, if you have eaten a lot of sugar, bread, pasta etc. in your lifetime, you may want to consider a cleanse. I will be talking in detail about my gentle cleanse and how to do it, in a later post.

Did you know that gluten is actually a protein? Yep, and on a molecular level, it is a strong protein chain that is difficult for some people’s digestive system to break. Proteins are not meant to be released from the small intestine until they are reduced to a single amino acid. If your intestinal wall is compromised, and you are a person who has a hard time breaking down gluten, protein chains that are NOT meant to enter the blood, have an escape route via the weak points.

When the rogue gluten molecules enter the blood, the immune system kicks in, big time. The immune system is like ‘Get those intruders!’. This can show up as an allergic reaction, which is what happened to me in the form of hives. But, there are other, subtle symptoms – like bloating, gas, a feeling of fatigue or heaviness, constipation – to name a few. As the situation worsens over time, more food particles begin escaping, and more allergies are formed, until you feel like you can’t eat anything without a reaction.

This scenario is also a recipe for auto-immunity. An overactive immune system can become confused, until bodily tissue, such as the thyroid gland, starts to be mistaken as an intruder, In fact, the protein chain that comprises the thyroid gland is identical to part of the sequence of the gluten protein. Bizarre, right? Regardless, it is a fact.

I quit eating gluten as the second step in my Year To Heal. I was scared to do it, and I resisted. I am partly Italian, and eating bread and pasta seemed to be a part of me. The emotion before I let go of gluten was huge.

Thankfully, once I actually made the break and totally quit in April of 2014, it was surprisingly easy. The lightness I began to feel only weeks after quitting was so worth it. My stomach felt better all around. I still had hives, but not nearly as bad. Evidently, it can take six months or more for the gluten to clear completely out of your body.

Although the idea of quitting gluten was terrifying, once I understood the gluten/ leaky-gut/ allergy /auto-immune connection, a protective reaction kicked in. I had to protect myself! Health and wellness became my top priority. When you are unwell, you suddenly realize how crucial well-being is – how tied to one’s quality of life. I’ve always wanted to live this life to the fullest, and with a broken down body, living well becomes difficult. I am so grateful that cutting gluten out of my diet has had such a big impact.

There are different levels of gluten sensitivity, from all-out Celiac disease, to mild allergy. If you have bloating or an uncomfortable stomach, you may want to cut it out for a bit and see how you feel.

I have gotten into gluten-free baking, using almond and coconut flours, and it’s amazing the things you can make! I have found some good gluten-free products out there, but you have to be careful not to over-indulge on these because of their density, and always check the ingredient list for sugar or artificial additives, which are not your friends. I like my homemade gluten-free goodies the best, and I will post one of my recipes soon, for you to try.

It is fitting that I am posting this on Valentine’s Day. Taking care of yourself is a form of love. After all, if you don’t nurture and love yourself, from the inside out, it will be hard to truly receive love from someone else. I now think of choosing not to eat gluten, not as a form of sacrifice, but as a form of self-care. I replace gluten with foods that make me feel GOOD. In this way, I let my body know that I love her! You deserve the same, whatever form this takes for you. Happy Valentine’s Day!

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