This morning, I started off with a question in my head.
``What the heck IS gluten, anyways?” I know there is much hype around this word lately, but the actual composition of gluten has never been clear to me. What I learned today is that gluten is simply two proteins bound together which is present in some cereal grains. These proteins are what make dough elastic for baking, and they also nourish the plant embryo during the germination process. But gluten is more than simply just two proteins bound together. It has become this sort of monster, this awful thing in our food that is making SO many people sick. Everything is gluten-free from our shampoo to our bagels. For people with strong gluten sensitivities, I’m sure this must be fabulous! But for the rest of us, for inquisitive food conscious minds like mine, it’s just plain confusing.
So although the composition of gluten is fairly simple, the interaction it has with human bodies is not. Basically, when a person is gluten intolerant, consumed gluten does not digest as food should. Instead, it becomes a glue-like, constipation causing massive lump in the intestines. Hence the abdominal pain and bowel problems that often accompany gluten intolerance.
Dr. Mercola tells us that gluten intolerance is now four times more common than it was in the 1950’s. He believes that the dramatic changes in our Western diet have played a role. I personally agree with him. The food that we eat today is very different than that which our grandparents grew up on. Our food system has undergone dramatic change in the last 50 years, and it is showing up in our health. The prevalence of celiac disease in Finland has doubled in the last two decades, and the growth in the U.S. is even more substantial. So what is causing this alarming increase in gluten sensitivities?
Before I go further, I must say that much of what I write here is simply my humble opinion. While I do claim to have some knowledge as I spent much of my day researching this very topic, I realize that most of the information I got was because it was the kind I was looking for. I googled things like “gluten GMO” and “gluten intolerance increase”, to back up what I already believe to be true. I do not claim to be a scientist or a doctor, only a farmer with an opinion.
Now – what’s causing this increase in gluten sensitivities? There seems to be a link between GMO’s and gluten. This is starting to get really interesting to me. But the more I think about it, the more it makes perfect sense. GMO’s have been linked to an increase in food allergies, and gluten is a food allergy in a sense. Gluten is found in some of our food, and sensitivity is just another word for allergy. So the picture is starting to come together.
Dr. Emily Linder, who works with people who are gluten sensitive recommends removing genetically modified foods as part of her treatment of celiac disease. She has observed that this makes the recovery faster and more complete.
But, there isn’t even GMO wheat on the market. There is hybridized wheat, but it has not been approved genetically modified (yet). Genetic modification occurs in a lab, and the process involves the transfer of DNA from one species, such as fish, into that of another, such as tomatoes. With genetic modification, scientists can breech species barriers to create a new organism that could never be produced in nature. The process is very different than traditional breeding practices such as hybridization. There are some experts who say the hybridization of wheat is what we have to blame for the increase in gluten sensitivity. There is the thought that the consumption of wheat and gluten per capita has increased and this may also play a role. I don’t think there is one culprit alone, but rather a few major changes which have worked together to create this gluten craze. I’ve believed for a while now that modern day wheat is harmful to our health and make an effort to avoid it in my diet. I’ve also believed that GMO’s are freaking messed up and I can’t believe they’re a part of our food chain WITHOUT OUR CONSENT. But that these two issues are related? This is a new concept for me!
When I think about genetic modification, I really see it as something monstrous. A tomato that contains a fish gene, are you kidding me? How is that even a thing! What you see is not often what you get anymore, and since the food companies aren’t telling me what’s really in my food, I have to do research on my own. I know that some people don’t think GMO’s are harmful in the long run but the fact of the matter is, we have no real way of knowing. Since we’ve only been eating this food for about 15 years, no one can say for sure how it will affect us in 60 years. We’re not so advanced yet that we can travel time, so we simply don’t know. I would rather eat what my ancestors ate and survived on because I trust that. That food worked for them.
There are nine GM food crops currently being grown in our world for commercial use. The six major ones are corn, cotton, canola, soy, sugar beets and alfalfa. All six are engineered to survive spray applications of weed killer. Although this weed killer doesn’t kill these engineered crops, it does contaminate the plant with extremely toxic DNA damaging agrichemicals. Some corn and cotton crops are even engineered to contain genes that produce a toxic insecticide called Bt-toxin. Bt-toxin is designed to break open the stomach of insects and kill them. Turns out it’s causing similar problems for humans – it plays a part in a disorder that has been linked to gluten sensitivity, ‘leaky gut’. Leaky gut is exactly what it sounds like. The intestinal walls get weak, and the guts literally leak out of your intestines into the rest of your body, mainly your blood stream. The junctures between the cells lining the intestinal wall open up, allowing the contents of the intestines out. These contents can be undigested food particles, gut bacteria, and even consumed chemicals. It makes sense that corn and cotton crops engineered to literally explode insect stomachs would have a similar gut poking effect on humans. The big ag companies told us these toxins would not interact with human cells – but this appears to be totally false. A 2011 Canadian study conducted on pregnant women disproved this. The discovery was that 93% of the pregnant women tested had Bt-toxin from genetically engineered corn in their blood. 80% of the unborn fetuses tested also had this toxin in their bloodstream. The idea of Bt-toxin being in the blood of fetuses is alarming – they do not have fully developed blood-brain barriers, and the hole-poking toxin may be active in their brains as well. Before they are even born. So if this toxin was not supposed to interact with human cells, how did it end up in so many of the subjects in the study? The toxin is expected to quickly wash out of our bloodstream. Therefore, the consumption of Bt-toxin must be quite frequent to explain why 9 of 10 subjects still have it in their blood. This study was done in Canada, not Mexico. Most Canadians don’t eat corn chips and corn tortillas every day. On average, Canadians do consume a lot of corn derivatives like high fructose corn syrup and modified corn starch, but these processed foods no longer contain Bt-toxin. So where is the toxin coming from?
Here’s where things start to get scary. The next tag line in the research paper I’m reading is “Living Pesticide Factories Inside Us”. I had to stop and let that one sink in for a moment.
Research published in Natural Biotechnology in 2004 by a team of British scientists confirmed that part of the DNA “transgene” inserted into GMO crops can actually transfer into the DNA of our gut bacteria. They discovered that part of the gene from the herbicide tolerant soybeans had integrated into the intestinal flora of three out of seven test subjects. (I should mention that this study was done in the UK, where they consume substantially less soy than we do in North America.) The original paper confirmed that the intestinal flora (gut bacteria) which contained part of the herbicide resistant gene were not killed when exposed to the active ingredient in the herbicide, glyphosate. They were herbicide tolerant. This makes it extremely likely that the transferred genes from GMO’s continue to function after they have integrated into our gut bacteria, which also means we may have GM proteins continuously being produced inside our guts long after we stop eating GMO’s.
So there’s a chance that there may be herbicide tolerant Franken-created bacteria floating around in my guts. There is absolutely no part of me that’s cool with this. And with the increased occurrence of leaky gut, there may be a chance that this bacteria has made it’s way into my bloodstream! 100% not cool with me. Although I do my best to avoid GMO’s, I do not claim to be perfect and I’ve been known to falter on my path of healthy eating here and there. But the more I learn about the harmful effects of these products, the harder I strive to avoid them. I’m a big lover of warm, thick sliced bread topped with melted butter. I’d be pretty upset if someone told me I could never enjoy that again without paying for it dearly afterwards, praying to the porcelain gods.
Gluten is simply two proteins bound together. But it is so much more than that. It is the best friend of a baker, and the enemy of a celiac. It is the starter of conversations and the source of much greed. “Gluten-free” is a marketing ploy aimed at the uneducated consumer, and a helping hand to those in real need.
I hope that my diet never has to become gluten free. I consume mostly organic ancient grains, many which contain gluten and I do not plan to change that unless gluten starts to negatively affect my health. For many people, gluten-free is a way of life. For me, it is a sign of extreme problems in our food system. A sign that our bodies no longer recognize what we are putting into them.
NOTE: Much of this information came from a research paper done by Jeffrey M. Smith of Institute for Responsible Technology. Read the full paper here.