Gluten in a Nutshell

There’s been a lot of buzz about gluten. Is it good? Is it bad? Do you need to be concerned? Here’s a quick breakdown of the ‘whats’ and ‘whys’ of a potentially troublesome ingredient in some of America’s favorite foods.

What is it?
Gluten is a sticky protein found in many grains, principally wheat, rye, and barley. It’s stickiness is why it’s used as a binder for things like bread and other items that are bound together.

Why is it an issue now?
It seems that gluten has grabbed a few headlines in recent years. It’s not a fad. The fact is we’re now able to better diagnose health problems stemming from gluten. The waist high “amber waves of grain” flowing in the wind are a thing of the past. Gluten has been hybridized down to a stubby, drought-resistant, bug-resistant, faster growing specimen with higher gluten contents to stand up to intense processing. About 5% of the proteins found in hybridized wheat are new and not found in either of the original wheat plants from whence they came. It’s these newer proteins that are causing inflammation and intolerance to gluten.

Also, wheat today has been deaminated, which means wheat is now subject to a chemical reaction that degrades the proteins, allowing the wheat to be water-soluble and thereby able to be added to a wide variety of processed food. On top of all of this, we consume far more wheat than our ancestors which is why gluten is such a hot topic today.

What health conditions are caused by gluten?
When an individual has symptoms of Celiac Disease, but the disease is not present, that is Gluten sensitivity/intolerance.
Although many people consider Celiac Disease an allergy, it’s actually an autoimmune disease that damages the small intestine. To confirm a diagnosis, a biopsy must be taken from the duodenum when patients have actively eaten a gluten-rich diet.

What are the symptoms of gluten intolerance and Celiac Disease?
Here’s the confusing part: A person with gluten sensitivity can have the same symptoms as a person with Celiac Disease. A good consultation with your doctor can get you on the path of determining what’s what. But as far as symptoms go, there are over 200, so we’ve pared the list down to the most prevalent:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Chronic diarrhea or constipation
  • Bone or joint pain
  • Bone density loss
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Tingling, numbness or pain in hands and feet
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Recurring canker sores
  • Nausea and/or Vomiting
  • Pale, foul-smelling or fatty stool
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Fatigue
  • Brain Fog

The Bottom Line
If you think you have dietary issues based on the symptoms above, there are a number of tests that can be administered to steer you in the right direction. Wheat elimination is a good start as well. Pull gluten out of your diet and see how you feel. Either way, it’s best to contact your physician and have a conversation about gluten.


  1. Beyond Celiac, “Celiac Disease and Gluten Sensitivity Glossary”, http://www.beyondceliac-disease/glossary/
  2. Celiac Disease Foundation, “Non-Celiac Wheat Sensitivity,”
  3. Myers, Dr. Amy, “How Gluten Wreaks Havoc On Your Gut”, Mind Body Green, May 30, 2014, http: