By Jackie Dobrinska
Asheville is known as a friendly gluten-free travel destination. We have gluten-free restaurants, gluten-free menus and gluten-free tags hanging on every grocery store shelf. With all of this focus, one logically wonders, why all of the fuss?
“It’s a perfect storm,” says Ellen Kittredge, a nutrition counselor who runs workshops in Asheville, “with several factors.”
Two kinds of gluten intolerances exist. Celiac disease is a serious autoimmune condition in which, after consuming gluten—a protein found in wheat, barley or rye—the body attacks the tissues of the small intestine. Gluten sensitivity is not an autoimmune condition, but has similar symptoms, though potentially not as dire.
“Symptoms of both kinds of gluten intolerance include bloating, gas, nausea and weight troubles,” says Dr. Elizabeth Pavka, a wholistic nutritionalist based in Asheville. “Also other issues exist like depression, fatigue, anxiety, infertility, osteoporosis, migraines, frequent infections, reproductive issues and, with celiac disease, even increased risk of thyroid disease, kidney failure and cancer.”
In the last few decades, gluten intolerances have skyrocketed. According to new studies by the Mayo Clinic, Celiac Disease has increased by 400 percent since World War II, and about five percent of the population suffers from gluten sensitivities.
Why the sudden increase? Some blame the wheat. In the 1980s the US started planting high-yield dwarf wheat, which is modified to be stronger so it can withstand industrialized farming’s heavy machinery, transcontinental shipping and high-pressure grinders. Gluten gives wheat its strength, and today it comprises about 50 percent of the grain compared to five percent in heirloom varieties.
Others blame the prevalence of gluten in our diet. It is not just in whole and refined breads, cookies and crackers, but is also used in fillers and binders. You can find gluten and gluten by-products in ketchup, salad dressings and hundreds of other processed foods. Food sensitivities in general are linked to over-consumption of any one food and especially refined food by-products.
A new study by MIT shines a light on another important factor: agricultural practices. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup®, is sometimes sprayed on crops just prior to harvest. Glyphosates cause celiac-like conditions in fish. While Monsanto’s guide suggests spraying three to ten days prior to harvest, some farmers say they do not adhere to this timeline.
Yet, even with these issues, many people are fine eating gluten. “The difference lies in digestion,” says Kittredge. “Food sensitivities are an indication of deeper digestive issues often caused from over-exposure to chemicals, pesticides, GMOs, antibiotics and other factors.”
While gluten intolerance is a many-tiered issue, often it’s those who love bread and grains the most who have the sensitivities. There is a test for Celiac Disease, but to find out if you have sensitivity, a 21-day gluten fast is recommended. While challenging at first, finding relief from symptoms can be well worth the effort.
Jackie Dobrinska is a holistic wellness coach in Asheville. Reach her at asimplevibrantlife.com. This article contains general information about medical conditions and complementary treatment, and is not to be considered expert medical advice.