Gluten Gluttons: How Gluten Affects Your Digestive Health
I remember growing up when my mother would bake homemade breads. Our family would devour a whole loaf within a few hours, and she would need to make another to replace it. The enthralling scent which wafted from the oven, the cozy feeling of a warm, full stomach after a few slices, and the rich flavor of the wheat flour and spreads added, they all had me hooked. I started to wonder as I grew older whether I really enjoyed bread, or if this was a serious addiction. At first I was just joking around, but eventually it became a serious consideration.
Most people love freshly made bread, especially when it is still warm from the oven. This wonderfully delicious food combines both softness and crunchiness, and a slight sweetness with the savory taste.
Unfortunately, this delectable food may be one of the most common causes of food allergies and sensitivities in the modern world. Bread, along with many other baked goods, pastas, crackers, sauces, dressings, and many more unbelievable items contain a very common ingredient: WHEAT.
Now, wheat itself is not the whole problem, because many of our ancestors ate wheat and lived free of these modern ailments. No, it is the wheat gluten which is the main culprit in this story. Some of you may be wondering what gluten is. You might think: “I see ‘gluten-free’ all over the grocery store on a bunch of packages, but have no idea if it is really any healthier.” Well, gluten is not only in wheat, but also barley, rye, and (sometimes) oats.* Gluten is the protein in these grains.
Unfortunately, many years ago we began to hybridize wheat and other grains to have more of this protein so that they would be “stickier” and hold our recipes together better. If these grains have more “sticky stuff”–aka gluten–then why are so many more people having sensitivities to it? It was in our wheat all along, just in lesser quantities.
One reason is that in the past, wheat flour was often mixed with other flours (made from nuts and beans, for example) and it was not nearly as refined as it is today.
Wheat flour, with its drastically increased amount of gluten, creates a mass of glued-together food in our stomachs and adheres to the intestinal lining as it passes through our digestive tract, as Dr. Mercola describes. Dr. Mercola discusses the gluten issue more thoroughly, and offers a vast amount of information not only on wheat and our health, but all other grains.
I don’t even want to picture what this glutinous lining would look like after years of eating bread and it sticking to my insides (not to mention everything else I’ve eaten!).
This leftover glutinous mush causes reactions in some individuals. Genetics are a potential cause for this reaction, but there are many other factors which could contribute to this as well.
For people whom gluten affects, the immune system perceives this leftover gunk as a foreign invader and begins to attack not only this sticky mass, but the lining of the digestive tract. The immune system starts to react and many people experience ailments due to the immune response at the intestinal lining.
Some of these ailments are mild, but others are rather serious. To name just a few: asthma, emotional changes (i.e. irritability or behavior changes), depression, chronic fatigue, nutritional deficiencies and a number of autoimmune conditions. Unfortunately, this increase in intolerances and/or allergies also means that autoimmune conditions are on the rise as well. The rise in wheat consumption and the increased amount of gluten in wheat (from hybridization and other agricultural changes) is why so many more humans are finding intolerances, sensitivities or allergies to wheat and its band of hooligans.
Gluten and the Gerson Therapy
I believe that sensitivities to gluten are most likely the reason Dr. Gerson eliminated wheat, barley, and severely limited rye from the Gerson Therapy diet. During the time that he was treating patients, oats may have been one of the widely available grains which did not cause these types of reactions. Oats are one of the main staples for Gerson patients as they eat a big bowl for breakfast each morning.
There are even some patients nowadays who did not previously notice gluten sensitivity, but after starting the Therapy, find that they need to use certified gluten-free oats. Some complain of stomach aches from the oatmeal which may be caused by wheat contamination at the processing plants in our modern age.
Dr. Gerson also focused on providing the body with the maximum amount of nutrients in the food patients ate. Bread and other foods with grain flours are severely restricted for patients. Salt-free rye bread is the only type of bread permitted on the Gerson Therapy, and it is restricted to only 2 slices per day because it does not provide the body with a bulk of nutrients. Could Dr. Gerson have noticed the reactions from gluten intolerances, sensitivities, or allergies while he was treating patients?
These few permitted slices of rye bread on the Gerson Therapy are usually available to help patients cope with the drastic diet change many are making and eliminating many familiar foods. For those who have trouble making this transition, they can either venture into making their own loaf of fresh rye bread or purchase it.
The Allergy-Addiction Connection
Why is it so difficult for us to give up the foods we “love” so much? It may sound odd, but some cravings may actually be caused by an allergy (or sensitivity) to those very foods we desire. We experience an endorphin rush each time that we ingest certain types of foods, including wheat. Wheat proteins are broken down in the body and then muddle the brain’s opioid receptors, which causes an endorphin rush. This gives us a feeling of being on a “food high” that we are continually hungry for (literally!). Dr. Mark Hyman gives an explanation of what occurs when we consume wheat and other foods which cause similar reactions:
“When processed by your digestion, the proteins in wheat are converted into shorter proteins, “polypeptides”, called “exorphins”. They are like the endorphins you get from a runner’s high and bind to the opioid receptors in the brain, making you high, and addicted just like a heroin addict. These wheat polypeptides are absorbed into the bloodstream and get right across the blood brain barrier. They are called “gluteomorphins” after “gluten” and “morphine”.”
-Mark Hyman, M.D.
However, after prolonged exposure to addictive foods like wheat, we are most likely no longer aware of the pain and irritations experienced from these foods. We only feel the opiate effect.
No wonder our society has turned into such gluttons for gluten! If we feel a high every time we eat wheat, we are going to continually crave it even after we begin to eliminate it from our diet.
The question then becomes… Are we addicted to the food, or the feeling?
Unluckily, breads and other wheat products do not provide us with a bulk of nutrients in addition to these other cons. There are plenty of other foods which are so much more beneficial and delicious, such as fruits and veggies. For more information on what foods we healthy people should eat, you may want to reference the dietary suggestions Dr. Gerson made in Chapter 3 of A Cancer Therapy: The Results of 50 Cases. This chapter describes a general nutritional guide for healthy individuals of what 75 % of their diet should consist of. These guidelines also discourage the consumption of wheat and other glutinous products. You can read and download our Gerson Guidelines for General Nutrition below as well
It is also important for us to keep these principles in mind as we begin to enter the time of year that we tend to indulge ourselves, food-wise. Many of the foods normally associated with the holidays contain not-so-healthy ingredients which propel our addiction to bread and other baked goods (e.g. pies, cookies, cupcakes, etc). It’s great to find healthier, more nutritious ways to enjoy holiday traditions. Starting new traditions is also a great idea and an easy way to start incorporating healthier foods.
There are many recipes that Gerson Therapy patients can have on occasional holidays which are much more nutritious than the regular holiday treats. Maybe these could turn into new holiday traditions and help spread the information about the therapy to friends and family we share these dishes with.
About the Author
Kayla Courtney is one of the Education Specialists at the Gerson Institute. She works on the front lines answering the constant influx of emails and phone calls, assisting patients who visit the clinic in Mexico, and managing projects for volunteers.
Kayla has a passion for dance of all styles and loves making and eating new and nutritious vegan recipes.
So how do you suggest we begin to end our gluttony and break free from gluten and its awful band of brethren?
What foods should our diet include to help us beat this addiction to such a tempting, but nutrient-lacking food?