Someone said recently that the cause of the Industrial Revolution was changing our staple food from grains to potatoes. You can see the point: instead of all that threshing, grinding and baking, all you have to do is wash and boil it, freeing up plenty of time for inventing machinery and leisure activities.
It does make anyone wonder, though, why grain has been the foundation of farming civilisations, and perhaps the answer is that it began by being fed to animals. It’s a curious foodstuff for humans, because most of the animals who eat grasses have more than one stomach, or specialised micro organisms to break down the indigestible parts. We have neither, and evidence of the undesirability of a grain rich diet is overwhelming and universal.
If you consider the history of grain use in Europe, only the Italian pasta belt ate wheat – durum, which is low in gluten. In southern Italy the grain was rice, in Eastern Europe rye, in Scotland oats and in England, barley; only the rich ate wheaten bread here. And although all these grains except rice contain gluten, the amounts are low.
However during the last war our low gluten wheat flour supplies from Europe were cut off and instead we bought up the entire Canadian harvest year after year, and have continued doing so until now, substituting a moderately indigestible grain with a ‘strong’ or high gluten product which is highly allergenic and also quite addictive, causing a surprising variety of health problems.
Basically gluten – a Latin word meaning ‘glue’ – congeals in our gut, preventing the absorption of most nutrients (except the smallest molecule, sugar – hence the cravings that result for chocolate and sweet things), and damages the villi which causes coeliac-like symptoms. Often our bodies can’t wait to push the stuff out, and so we get symptom of an irritable bowel. We get dehydrated, demineralised, tired, muzzy, everything is running on a dead battery and we feel generally unwell.
- Gastrointestinal effects. Symptoms such as intense bloating, diarrhea and constipation are sure signs of gluten intolerance.
- Malabsorption of vitamins. If a person is gluten sensitive or intolerant, their stomach lining can no longer absorb essential nutrients from food. Low iron is a common indicator of gluten intolerance.
- Skin rash. Keratosis pilaris and dermatitis herpetiformis are two skin conditions with direct connections to gluten exposure. Both of these are extremely itchy skin rashes that appear on your arms, torso, face, buttocks, elbows and hairline. Other skin irritations that mimic eczema might signal a gluten contamination.
- Migraines. Or muzzy head. Headaches are symptoms of so many medical problems.Migraines that are combined with daily diarrhoea, a low iron count and a skin rash paint a different picture. And if your migraine starts within an hour or two of ingesting food that contains gluten, it’s highly indicative of a gluten sensitivity.
- Joint pain. Gluten contamination causes an inflammatory response in the body. That inflammation will make itself known in various ways. Joint pain, often misdiagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis, is a very common symptom of gluten intolerance. This is the symptom that surprised me the most. After I eliminated gluten, I was shocked at how much joint pain I had been having. When it resurfaced within hours of a gluten contamination, it was almost unbearable.
- Lactose intolerance. If you already have problems digesting foods containing lactose, chances are you’re having problems with gluten. If gluten has compromised the stomach lining and lactase, you will experience symptoms aligned with lactose intolerance. If you’re already lactose intolerant and have other symptoms on this list, it may be smart to consider eliminating gluten.
- Chronic fatigue. Like migraines, chronic fatigue alone is not a strong indicator of gluten intolerance. It’s become a clearer symptom when combined with gastrointestinal problems,especially frequent diarrhoea. If the body is not absorbing nutrients and essential vitamins, fatigue is sure to take over.
- Fibromyalgia. Some medical experts believe fibromyalgia is a symptom, not a disease. Inflammation of the connective tissue is one of the strongest symptoms of a gluten intolerance. Essentially, the body thinks gluten is an enemy and will send out antibodies to destroy it. Those antibodies destroy the lining of the stomach and intestines. Just like with joint pain, the inflammation could present itself in any part
- Intractable Dandruff
- Pins and Needles: yet more nutrient deficiency symptoms
- Attention Deficits: it’s surprising how often kids with ADDH and suchlike improve at once when the gluten is removed.
- Depression, Anxiety and Irritability mostly these are caused by the blocking of nutrients from the gut, resulting in low levels of energy and well being
- Thrush – possibly the commonest symptom of all. This is usually caused by ‘leaky gut syndrome’, where the bowel has been damaged by the gluten protein, allowing it to pervade the bloodstream and affect other parts of the body.
Anything that causes such a wide range of symptoms should NOT be a major part of our diets, and well over 70% of people who try out a gluten free fortnight feel enormously benefited by it. Many of those give up gluten permanently because they feel that the gluten is poisoning them.
If you feel you may be one of the great majority of people who are gluten intolerant, give yourself a fortnight of no grains at all, eating lovely fry ups (no sausages or toast), soups, salads and cooked meals, and see if you feel the difference. Expect, though to get cravings and/or headaches over the first few days. If unsure how to organise it, consult a dietary therapist for support.
Stella Berg is a Homoeopathic Healthcare Practitioner based in the Forest of Dean. She is also a lively and passionate contributor to the Food Hub. You can find out more about Stella and her work at http://www.homsapient.com