Gluten Gluttons: How Gluten Affects Your Digestive Health

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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.

*Oats do not inherently contain gluten, but they are typically processed in plants which also handle wheat and are likely to be contaminated. However, gluten-free oats can often be found in health food stores

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.
Gluten Gluttons
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.

Top photo credit: milkandhoney2012 via Flickr
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?
 

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UKLBRJKP36OCZN5QOA7OB5ASQA Laura

    I did Gerson Therapy for a couple of months to break free. No longer addicted, I enjoy things baked with almond flour. (I have also used a little spelt, but I think that is wheat). I don’t touch anything processed, especially chocolate candies (but I do have a little dark chocolate once in a while). I have come to understand I had been eating sugar and carbs for anti-depressant effects, and I still need that so I make sure I have steel cut oats every morning with a little molasses and sometimes coconut oil. I also enjoy the potatoes as I had on the Gerson Therapy. When I was on the therapy I was eating 2000 to 2500 calories a day and still lost 25 lbs over a 4 month period. The hardest part, after the initial adjustment, was dealing with constant questions from friends who ask about why I eat this and why I don’t eat that and focus way too much on weight loss. That, and trying to tempt me with junk food, which will be happening at the party I am getting ready to go to. But I feel better, and a heart arrhythmia I have improved after I changed my diet.

  • Tammy Griffith

    Some people think the problem is not so much gluten as it is bromine. Brominated flour is a staple today and causes many problems. We only use King Arthur flour or Pepperidge Farm bread because they use unbrominated flour. We also take an iodine supplement.

  • Liz

    what potatoes are allowed on the gerson therapy?

  • http://www.facebook.com/jdages Jennifer Dages

    From some of my reading I think another big factor is the way bread is made. 100 years ago and back bread was always made with sourdough and the grain was all soaked and only natural yeasts were used, not baker’s yeast. That also makes a difference.
    Jennifer at http://www.visionherbs.tumblr.com

  • Iza

    Hi Kayla. Greetings from Poland! Thanks a lot for the article – I find the included information very valuable, as I’m switching to Gerson Therapy. Any chance to reupload the “Rye Bread Recipe”? I’d really appreciate it :)

  • GersonInstitute

    Hi Iza! The rye bread recipe is back up :)

  • Jacqueline Cooper-Harrison

    Hi! I have a quick question. I’ve recently switched my diet over to Paleo because I am allergic to gluten and dairy, but I’m also trying to eliminate soy and sugar as well. I also don’t do good with meat unless its fish. I love to bake and was wondering if using coconut flour and almond flour is ok for the Gerson diet.

  • Alex

    Russet potatoes and new (red) potatoes are both allowed, I believe. They have to be baked and should not be covered in salt, butter, sour cream, bacon, etc… I like to eat my baked potatoes with fresh salsa and a little cold pressed flax oil. It is SO good!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=578920745 Damien Fahy

    My Korean girlfriend and I read your article and found it very helpful. Upon reading your bio at the bottom my girlfriend read you like: ‘passion for dance of all styles and love making’ and she said “yes me too… she seems interesting”… :)

  • Lindsay Pearson Griego

    So I am confused. Is 100 percent whole wheat okay that is not bomated?

  • GersonInstitute

    Hi Lindsay! The only potential sources of gluten permitted are the very small amounts of whole wheat used in the rye bread, and oatmeal. Oatmeal itself doesn’t contain gluten, but many commercial oatmeals contain some gluten due to contamination during processing. However, many companies sell certified gluten-free oats.

    Wheat consumption is kept to an absolute minimum on the Therapy, and not really encouraged as it does not have much nutritional benefit, especially compared to the very nutrient-rich vegetables that make up the bulk of the Gerson diet. The rye bread is a “treat food” and should only be eaten in very small amounts, if at all.

  • Heidi Clark

    Question! So Why is there wheat in the Rye bread recipe? Can we use Oat flour instead, or how about a potato and Oak flour bread? What exactly are the nutritional values that we are trying to meet or leave out? Can we just use any gluten free flour? Is the reason for the two slices a day because of the gluten. If we get rid of that can we use more?

  • Gerrith

    I 100% agree with Dr Gerson and we live his advises for many years now, with daily juices to prevent any kind of illness in our physical body and have different exercises for our mind like QiGong, TaiChi and Mindfulness to prevent any kind energy blockades. We have been healthy all our life by being conscious about organic food since the early 70s and being conscious about our thoughts too. Very important stuff! A brain virus is a thought, an idea, a belief we get and it works like it was real. When I belief gluten is the cause of all my health problem, or Pollen or other ingredient of our nature, i will react. We have for years made tests by showing pictures of trees or flowers or wheat or milk and the people got allergic reactions from even the pictures. So please don’t underestimate our mind.

    You have a interesting point here in this article Kayla. We have heard this belief in Europe about gluten for over 40 years now and there are a lot more beliefs of this kind in our ordinary healthcare system. After 40 years the peoples health is not getting better, just more and more of this fake products on the marked, because people were allergic to gluten and dairy, soy and sugar in the beginning and now they are allergic to nearly everything, also almond and fruit and vegetables and seems to expand every year. A new gluten-free market, dairy-free market and did emerge and some more plastic kind products of unknown substances did come on the marked. A new billion dollar marked with fake products – even longer away from nature then ever.

    What really happen from the ecological perspective, is the amount of chemicals they use in wheat today. THIS is the REAL problem. As principal of an high school 20 years ago I was in contact on daily base with Nutritionists, scientists from various disciplines and a group of old Master Bakers. They all had their own individual Belief-system and will tell me about potatoes were good, then bad, then good again. Milk was essential, then it was the source of all eval and years after it was a essential source of lime for our bones… The bakers did not talk very much. Every friday they did sale a new kind of recipe for bread they tried with the apprentices in a little store in our High-school.

    I mentioned pain in my stomach every time when I buy bread from any bakery in town.
    This old MasterBaker did tell me, there were many young Bakers in Europe, very enthusiastic about their work, but must stop to work because the chemicals in the wheat flour. They getting skin problems and allergic reactions. Then they started with organic Wheat and Spelt and the problem was over. He told me about the much older Spelt and Emmer from the Middle-age: They are not as high as Wheat and don’t need Straw-shortening chemicals to cut the size because otherwise wheat will lay on earth after rain and is hart to harvest. This Master Baker also told me about the industrial yeast I should prevent and my stomach pain was over ever since.
    So we use only bicarbonate of Soda and Spelt and have give this knowledge to all our students and friends and family members with gluten allergies or pain in the stomach or other relater symptoms.
    Natural food is newer poison to our body. When we get too much of artificial flavor and color and taste enforcer inside our body and then all the chemicals and in food, air and water, we begin to react agains every kind of food.
    I think we have to sort out what is part of our belief system and what is Dr Gersons original theory. Otherwise we support the next billion dollar artificial food industry for people allergic agains everything including them self….

    Keep up the good spirit in the Gerson Institute
    We support you 100%
    Cheers!

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