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Gluten – What’s Wrong?

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Gluten – What’s Wrong?

(updated 8.4.2019)

“Gluten is a sticky protein found in certain grains such as wheat, barley, rye, spelt, and kamut. Gluten, from the Latin for “glue,” is the adhesive material that holds the flour together to make bread. It gives bread dough its elasticity and baked goods their fluffiness and chewiness. It stops sauces and gravies from curdling and gives a smooth texture to cheese spreads, margarine, and mustard.” (1)

Adding more gluten to foods have been groundbreaking for the food industries but do we have to pay the price with our health? Gluten works as a glue in the dough but does it have a similar effect on our brain? We now know, that gluten can turn into opioid peptides in the intestine and access through the brain blood barrier. In the brain, gluten seems to affect the same morphine receptors than drugs like cocaine and opium, releasing exorphins. In other words, gluten might control one’s mind the same way than heroine controls an addict. Is this a bit of an exaggeration?

Some scientists believe that this is one of the reasons why people struggle to get rid of wheat. 30% of the people who give up wheat are suffering from side effects like extreme fatigue, brain fog, irritation, concentration problems and even depression. Luckily these side effect will disappear in a few days, unless you take the short cut, a muffin.


Researchers are also finding that many people carry partial genes for gluten intolerance and there is a whole range of gluten sensitivity. It’s believed that once the genes are triggered, it’s a lifelong condition that can show up in the gut, skin (dermatitis herpetiformis), mucous membranes, or as blisters in the mouth.

The rise in gluten sensitivity is believed to be due to the increased consumption of gluten, sugar, artificial sweeteners, additives and pro-inflammatory foods, as well as the rise of environmental toxins. (5)

I’ve had celiac disease test taken a few years back and it turned out negative. They found some chronic inflammation in my gut though. I haven’t taken a gluten intolerance test (see the list of providers below), but I know without any tests that I can’t tolerate gluten in my food.


The grain that first entered our diet about 10,000 years ago bears little resemblance to the grain we grow and consume today. Genetic bioengineering and food processing have created strains of grains that contain up to 40 times the gluten of grains than a few decades ago. Referring to Dr Allan Fritz, a Professor in Wheat Breeding in Kansas State University, 99% of all the wheat cultivated in the world today, is modern production dwarf or semi-dwarf wheat.

Used also as an additive and stabilising agent in innumerable processed foods and personal care products, gluten has been an important commodity to manufacturers, to the point that we have hybridised our grains to contain even more gluten. (5)

Gluten is a sticky and glue-like protein that can disturb the digestion and absorption of the nutrients. When the unabsorbed food is left in the gut, it increases the immune response and our immune system attacks the small intestine wall. That can cause symptoms such as stomachache, nausea, diarrhoea, constipation, awkwardness and in the long run, a leaky gut.

It’s interesting that the same kind of an immune system attack can develop in the other parts of the body as well, such as in the nervous system. This means more inflammatory cytokines that are very destructive for the brain. The studies show that the brain can show symptoms even on its own. The future studies hopefully clarify more specifically the connections between neurological disorders and gluten. (7,8)

Gluten seems to be able to affect any body organ. Because of the immune reaction, the body can’t produce antioxidants (glutathione) and this might paralyse the whole immune system. The free radicals and the toxins of the long-term inflammation (oxidation) can even damage our DNA.

Best way to prevent gluten derived symptoms is to avoid gluten. Antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, E, turmeric, omega-3 (DHA) can also help with detoxification of free radicals. Not only food but also long-term exercise and good sleep can give a boost to antioxidants. This is important not only because deprivation of these two contributes to oxidative stress, but also because of melatonin, the hormone best-known for governing the sleep-wake cycle, is a powerful antioxidant as well.


Since the massive hybridising, crossbreed, genetic bioengineering and food processing have created strains of grains that contain up to 40 times the gluten, we seem to have a bit of a problem in our food.

Up to 30% of the population is estimated to suffer from gluten sensitivity and the rest of the people might think they are doing just fine. But could it be that gluten actually affects all of us? Since studies show that in some people gluten might show symptoms only in the brain, how can we know if a chronic migraine is not a cause of gluten?

We all have our own genetic make-up, stress factors, immune system status as well as different lifestyles and eating habits. The damage gluten can cause each person is on a wide spectrum. For example, Dr William Davis notes that “It’s unlikely that wheat is the original reason for ADHD, autism, schizophrenia, but it seems to worsen the symptoms.” The results are still not clear.

A list of symptoms/illnesses that can be related to gluten intolerance:

  • Digestive disturbances (gas, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, cramping, etc.)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Malabsorption of food
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Delayed growth
  • Hives/rashes
  • Brain fog
  • Neurological disorders (dementia, Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, etc.)
  • Seizures/epilepsy
  • Ataxia, loss of balance
  • Constantly getting sick
  • Chest pain
  • Dairy intolerance
  • Sugar cravings
  • Bone pain/Osteoporosis
  • Heart disease
  • Anxiety/depression
  • ADD / ADHD
  • Tourette’s syndrome
  • Infertility
  • Miscarriages
  • Migraines
  • Autism
  • Alcoholism
  • Cancer
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • ALS
  • Autoimmune disorders (Diabetes, Hashimoto Thyroiditis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, to 
name a few)


The following grains and starches contain gluten:

  • Wheat
  • Wheat germ
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Bulgur
  • Couscous
  • Farina
  • Graham flour
  • Kamut Matzo
  • Semolina
  • Spelt
  • Triticale

The Grasses

Many people want to use wheat, barley, rye, and oat grass (not the seed) as a supplement to the diet.  These grasses are commonly found in “green drink” shake products.  Technically, these do not contain gluten as they are the grass part of the plant.  However; it is recommended to avoid these to prevent the possibility of cross-contamination. (11)

The following foods often contain gluten:

  • malt/malt flavouring
  • soups
  • commercial bullion and broths
  • cold cuts
  • French fries (often dusted with flour before freezing)
  • processed cheese (e.g., Velveeta)
  • mayonnaise
  • ketchup
  • malt vinegar
  • soy sauce and teriyaki sauces
  • salad dressings
  • imitation crab meat, bacon, etc
  • egg substitute
  • tabbouleh
  • sausage
  • non-dairy creamer
  • fried vegetables/tempura
  • gravy
  • marinades
  • canned baked beans
  • cereals
  • commercially prepared chocolate milk
  • breaded foods
  • fruit fillings and puddings
  • hot dogs
  • ice cream
  • root beer
  • energy bars
  • trail mix
  • syrups
  • seitan
  • wheatgrass
  • instant hot drinks
  • flavoured coffees and teas blue cheeses
  • vodka
  • wine coolers
  • meatballs, meatloaf communion wafers
  • veggie burgers
  • roasted nuts
  • beer
  • oats (unless certified GF)
  • oat bran (unless certified GF)

The following are miscellaneous sources of gluten:

For those with gluten intolerance, sensitivity, or allergy, hidden forms of gluten in cosmetics and hygiene products can cause major health issues. (12, 13)

  • shampoos
  • cosmetics
  • lipsticks, lip balm
  • Play-Doh
  • medications
  • non-self-adhesive stamps and envelopes
  • vitamins and supplements (check label)

The following ingredients are often coded for gluten:

Keep an eye on these in the list of ingredients:

  • Avena sativa Cyclodextrin
  • Dextrin
  • Fermented grain extract
  • Hordeum distichon
  • Hordeum vulgare
  • Hydrolysate
  • Hydrolyzed malt extract
  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • Maltodextrin
  • Phytosphingosine extract
  • Samino peptide complex
  • Secale cereale
  • Triticum aestivum
  • Triticum Vulgare
  • Tocopherol/vitamin E
  • Yeast extract
  • Natural flavouring
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Modified food starch
  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)
  • Hydrolyzed soy protein
  • Caramel colour (frequently made from barley)
  • Dairy


About 50 per cent of the people who are gluten-intolerant are also sensitive to dairy. The reason for the cross-reactions lies in the structural similarities among proteins of diverse sources, such as dairy and grains. For example, researchers are finding that instant coffee tends to cross-react with gluten and can mimic symptoms of gluten intolerance. So you can do a great job of remaining completely gluten-free but still suffer all of the symptoms of gluten consumption, just because your body still thinks you are eating gluten. But not all people with gluten sensitivity will react all of these gluten cross-reactors.

The other interesting issue is gluten cross-contamination which is different from cross-reactive. For example, in some cases, celiac or very gluten sensitive person may react to eggs because the chickens are fed a heavy diet of grains. The staple diet for commercial dairy cows is also grain. But whether or not glutens from feeding cows or chickens grain crosses into dairy or eggs, is still questionable. Gluten cross-contamination might also happen when the food is manufactured, packaged and prepared for eating. Check out the product’s label for “may contain x”, “made on equipment that also processes x” or “made in a factory that also handles x”.

The following foods might cause a cross-reaction for celiac or gluten sensitive person or they might be gluten cross-contaminated:

  • Dairy
  • Milk chocolate
  • Sesame
  • Hemp
  • Buckwheat
  • Eggs
  • Soy (soy might be one of the most cross-contaminated of all crops!)
  • Sorghum
  • Millet
  • Spelt
  • Amaranth
  • Quinoa
  • Yeast (brewer, baker’s yeast)
  • Tapioca
  • Teff
  • Oats
  • Instant coffee
  • Rice
  • Whey

Overwhelming? Luckily there are new cutting-edge tests you can do to find out what foods should You be avoiding. Check out the following chapter.


Diagnosing gluten sensitivity has been difficult and met with much controversy in the medical establishment. Unfortunately, the old school blood testing and the biopsies aren’t near as accurate as the new cutting-edge tests developed 10 years ago. These following labs have panels to look for gluten antibodies in addition to genetic testing.

EnteroLab, located in Texas, Dallas is a registered and fully accredited clinical laboratory specialising in the analysis of intestinal specimens for food sensitivities (reactions by the immune system to common proteins in the diet) that cause a variety of symptoms and diseases. One particular area of their focus relates to intestinal conditions caused by immune reactivity to gluten. EnteroLab has developed a unique screening test for gluten sensitivity, as well as for many other antigenic food sensitivities, that is more sensitive and specific than tests in current use (U.S. and International patents issued). International orders are also possible depending on the local shipping regulations (allowance to send a non-infectious, exempt human biological specimen). Enter Labs will send you a testing kit.

Cyrex Labs is located in the United States but as they are expanding rapidly they already have partners in Canada, UK and Ireland. The tests must be ordered by a doctor that has an account with Cyrex. Cyrex Labs are an advanced clinical laboratory focusing on mucosal, cellular, and humoral immunology and specialising in antibody arrays for complex thyroid, gluten, and other food-associated autoimmunities and related neuro dysregulation.

Cyrex Laboratories Array 3 (Wheat/Gluten Proteome Reactivity & Autoimmunity)

Cyrex Laboratories Array 4 (Gluten-Associated Cross-Reactive Foods and Foods Sensitivity)


(If not cross-contaminated)

  • Amaranth

  • Arrowroot

  • Buckwheat

  • Corn

  • Millet

  • Potato

  • Quinoa

  • Rice

  • Sorghum

  • Soy

  • Tapioca

  • Teff

The following items can be consumed liberally on your Gluten-Free Diet (if no cross-reaction or cross-contamination). Prefer organic and local with your whole- food choices or flash-frozen:

  • Healthy fat: extra virgin olive oil, sesame oil, coconut oil, grass-fed tallow and organic or pasture-fed butter, ghee, almond milk, avocados, coconuts, olives, nuts and nut butter, cheese (if you can tolerate dairy. Note! Blue cheese might contain gluten), and seeds (flaxseed, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, chia seeds).
  • Protein: whole eggs; wild fish (salmon, black cod, mahi-mahi, grouper, herring, trout, sardines); shellfish and molluscs (shrimp, crab, lobster, mussels, clams, oysters); grass-fed meat, fowl, poultry, and pork (beef, lamb, liver, bison, chicken, turkey, duck, ostrich, veal); wild game.
  • Vegetables: leafy greens and lettuces, collards, spinach, broccoli, kale, chard, cabbage, onions, mushrooms, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, sauerkraut, artichoke, alfalfa sprouts, green beans, celery, bok choy, radishes, watercress, turnip, asparagus, garlic, leek, fennel, shallots, scallions, ginger, jicama, parsley, water chestnuts.
  • Low-sugar Fruit: avocado, bell peppers, cucumber, tomato, zucchini, squash, pumpkin, eggplant, lemons, limes.
  • Herbs, Seasonings, and Condiments: There are virtually no restrictions on herbs and seasonings; be mindful of packaged products, however, that were made at plants that process wheat and soy.

The following might be used in small amounts, maybe ones a day or few times a week.:

  • Non-gluten grains (if no cross-reaction or cross-contamination): amaranth, buckwheat, rice (brown, white, wild), millet, quinoa, sorghum, teff. When non-gluten grains are processed for human consumption (e.g., milling whole oats and preparing rice for packaging), their physical structure changes and this increases the risk of an inflammatory reaction. For this reason, we limit these foods.
  • Legumes (beans, lentils, peas). Exception: you can have hummus (made from chickpeas).
  • Carrots and parsnips.
  • Whole sweet fruit: berries are best; be extra cautious of sugary fruits such as apricots, mangos, melons, papaya, prunes, and pineapple.
  • Cow’s milk and cream: use sparingly in recipes, coffee, and tea.
  • Cottage cheese, yoghurt, and kefir: use sparingly in recipes or as a topping.
  • Sweeteners: natural stevia and dark chocolate (at least 70 per cent or more cocoa).
  • Wine: one glass a day if you so choose, preferably red. (a rich source of resveratrol)

These foods you might shop:

  • Shredded Coconut
  • Kale
  • Almonds
  • Walnuts
  • Olive Oil
  • Coconut Oil
  • Grass-Fed Beef
  • Free Range Eggs
  • Avocado
  • Free-Range Turkey
  • Free-Range Chicken
  • Mixed Greens
  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Wild Salmon
  • Berries (in moderation)
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Bell Pepper
  • Black Pepper
  • Goat’s Cheese


More reading:

  1. http://www.healthspringholistic.com/#!Gluten-What-It-Is-and-What-You-Need-to-Know/cmaz/1
  2. book: “Grain Brain” by David Perlmutter M.D.
  3. book: “Wheat Belly” by William Davis M.D.
  4. http://www.nutramed.com/eatingdisorders/addictivefoods.htm
  5. http://www.healthspringholistic.com/#!Gluten-What-It-Is-and-What-You-Need-to-Know/cmaz/1
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22535227
  7. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140673696905401/abstract
  8. http://jnnp.bmj.com/content/72/5/560.full
  9. http://jnnp.bmj.com/content/72/5/560.full
  10. http://jnnp.bmj.com/content/72/5/560.full
  11. https://www.glutenfreesociety.org/guidelines-for-avoiding-gluten-unsafe-ingredients-for-gluten-sensitivity/#XxlR7EagAseohmvz.99
  12. https://www.glutenfreesociety.org/guidelines-for-avoiding-gluten-unsafe-ingredients-for-gluten-sensitivity/#XxlR7EagAseohmvz.99
  13. http://www.annallergy.org/article/S1081-1206(13)00733-3/abstract
  14. http://www.annallergy.org/article/S1081-1206(13)00733-3/abstract
  15. http://www.annallergy.org/article/S1081-1206(13)00733-3/abstract

Note! I’m a Nutritional Therapist, not a doctor or a nutritionist, and I have learned my way through the hard way: by studying, experimenting, reading and investigating. All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being. The Healing Foodie is not responsible for errors or omissions.