Gluten – It Tastes Good, Feels Good, But It Just Might Be Killing You! What The Big Companies Are Not Telling You…

If you want controversy here is a subject to create it!

And it is one that I definitely don’t sit on the fence about.

Cutting out gluten turned my life around within three days! It did not cure everything but it went a really long way to helping my body feel a whole lot better, in a short time!

And I am NOT a celiac.

So What Is Gluten?

Gluten is protein found in wheat, rye, spelt and barley.

It is made up of 2 proteins

  • glutenin
  • gliadins (made up of 12 smaller units)

It is the part of wheat which gives it the quality so relished in baking, especially bread-making… the sticky nature. It traps air in the baking, causing it to be ‘light and fluffy’.

This video shows off this quality very vividly!

It is the only protein we eat which we are not equipped to digest fully. We do not have the enzymes necessary to digest gluten fully.

Why Does It Taste SO Good?

The taste of pure gluten is not nice, but it’s many uses make it one of the most common food additives in very delicious tasting products.

It is found hidden in a multitudes of processed foods and products, coating meats and in sauces and marinades. It is everywhere!

And is in many personal care products, lipsticks, envelopes sticky bit, medications and supplements.

When you try to avoid it you realise how many places it is used!

 Why Does It Feel Good? Food Opiates!

The way the gluten acts in the body demonstrates opiate qualities. The glutenins degrade into opioid-like polypeptides, called exophins which bind to the opioid receptors in the brain and these affect our emotions, attachments and a variety of other factors.

Other natural food opiates are found in

  • chocolate
  • certain vegetables, particularly spinach
  • sugar
  • some meats and fish
  • coffee
  • dairy.

These qualities can

  • make us feel good
  • keep us coming back for more
  • be habit forming.

Heroin, opium and morphine are powerful opiates, with addictive qualities.

For an in depth discussion on food opiates, food addiction and more, read this and this.

So there is habit-forming nature to wheat, and a feel-good factor associated with it. No wonder we use the term ‘comfort eating’. The wheat is often combined with sugar in baking and most people are now aware of the addictive nature of sugar too.

So it all FEELS good!

Tastes good.


What does Gluten Do In Our Bodies?

And here is the controversy.

If you google such a question you are inundated with a overwhelming, swamping amount of conflicting information, research, articles and arguments.

When reading the information we must be aware that most people writing on such a subject, if not all, have a bias.

My own experience leads my bias to be against eating gluten, certainly for myself and family. The dramatic effect of cutting the stuff out, and then the dramatic, horrible effect of accidental ingestion, demonstrates clearly that my family have gluten sensitivity.

Many people wrongly believe symptoms of gluten sensitivity are confined to the digestive system, but they are not.

Neurological symptoms are common,

  • migraines
  • ‘brain fog’
  • mood issues
  • depression and anxiety

as well as joint pains, skin issues and autoimmune disorders, a range of other symptoms.


This study from 2006 studied the effect of gliadin on a substance produced by the body called zonulin.

Zonulin is a protein, and a physiologic modulator of tight junctions (TJ) between cells in the intestinal lining. It regulates gut permeability.

Research has shown that gluten (the gliadin component) powerfully triggers the release of zonulin. This then increases the permeability of the gut wall, the spaces between the intestinal cells – leaky gut.

The conclusions drawn from the study were that

“Based on our results, we concluded that gliadin activates zonulin signaling irrespective of the genetic expression of autoimmunity, leading to increased intestinal permeability to macromolecules.”

This is key research because it says that everyone experiences a level of gut irritation and increased gut permeability from gluten.

Alessio Fasano, (read a very interesting interview with him here) is internationally recognised for his work into celiac disease and gluten intolerance, was one of the researchers on this project.

In this video he discusses why some people are unable to manage the immunologic reaction caused by the irritation, i.e. people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. And how the opened spaces in the gut wall remain open in these susceptible people causing severe problems.

The manifestation can be different for affected individuals depending upon genetic susceptibilities and weaknesses. For example, where one person may become depressed, another may become diabetic as a result of the inability to deal with ongoing gluten exposure.

 Antibodies and Cytokines

Gluten triggers the formation of both antibodies and cytokines, which are inflammatory to the body. Chronic inflammation leads to damage to tissues and organs of the body.

Please see this discussion about chronic inflammation on a previous blog post I wrote.

“However when the offence/irritation continues and chronic inflammation is setup this becomes a problem, and tissues become damaged. Any tissues can be damaged through inflammation including the intestinal lining, the arteries, and brain tissue.

If the fuel (food) is promoting inflammation, then the body is not functioning optimally and damage is most likely ensuing. This is the mechanism for so many maladies and degenerative disorders.

Perlmutter explains the more recent research has now documented that some of the most important instigators of the inflammation pathways to the brain are gluten and a diet high in carbohydrate. And he also goes on to point out that whilst this is happening and proven, the subjects often have no idea, no obvious symptoms!”

Who IS Adversely Affected By Gluten?

There is not a clear cut answer to this question.

Celiac Disease

Celiac Disease is a serious condition and reqires the total avoidance of gluten.

The shocking truth is that the average delay in diagnosis of celiac disease is 10-13 years depending on symptoms.

Symptoms can be varied which is often the cause of the delay in diagnosis, increased distress and poor health.

For someone with celiac disease, ingestion of gluten sets off an autoimmune response

  • the autoantibodies (to the gluten) that are produced attack the intestines and the tissues
  • damage to the villi and microvilli which line the gut results in malabsorption of nutrients.

Celiac Disease can lead to multitudes of symptoms (The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Centre has identified over 200 symptoms and conditions possibly related – but also state that “a significant percentage of people with celiac disease have no symptoms at all”) for an individual who is not avoiding gluten.

Symptoms vary between individuals and this is obviously not an exhaustive list, but they can include

  • diarrhoea
  • pale, foul smelling stool
  • weight loss
  • fatigue
  • anaemia
  • dermatitis herpetiformis (a particular type of skin rash)
  • headaches
  • brain fog
  • mouth ulcers
  • joint pain
  • failure to thrive in children
  • delayed puberty

Non-Celiac Gluten-Sensitivity

Dr Tom O’Bryan has spent his working life studying gluten and the effects of it on the human body. In his book The Autoimmune Fix he describes non-celiac gluten sensitivity, and outlines some of the similarities and differences between it and celiac disease

Gluten sensitivity untreated

  • causes a reaction to gluten via the innate immune branch in the body
  • does not wear down the villi and microvilli
  • causes as much, or more inflammation in the body as celiac disease
  • causes similar symptoms when exposed to gluten, including but not limited to anxiety, headaches, brain fog, and general ill-health
  • leads to autoimmune disorders, obesity, heart disease etc

He also reports that gluten sensitivity affects far more people than celiac disease, and that they too do just as well when following a gluten free diet.

For Everyone

I draw attention to a point I made earlier regarding zonulin…

“The conclusions drawn from the study were that

“Based on our results, we concluded that gliadin activates zonulin signaling irrespective of the genetic expression of autoimmunity, leading to increased intestinal permeability to macromolecules.”

This is key research because it says that everyone experiences a level of gut irritation and increased gut permeability from gluten.

What Are The Big Food Companies Not Telling You?

Gluten everywhere!

I discovered when we went ‘gluten free’ because we are gluten sensitive, that gluten really is everywhere. You may not realise that it really is so prevalent because it has so many names and different labels! For a list of where you might find gluten lurking, the varied labels it is given see here and here.

Did you have any idea of the incredible number of sources you will be getting gluten from if you are not actively avoiding it?

(I suggest it would be hard to find many processed foods without it in unless it was labelled ‘gluten free’!)

Gluten and wheat derivatives are used in food processing as a cheap stabiliser, an emulsifier, for thickening, and coating and as a flow agent in so very many processed foods, and for its various elasticity and gas-retaining properties in baking and bread making. They are pervasive ingredients, penetrating the food industry with, it could be suggested, a far reaching negative effect!

Lets be real, food manufacturing companies are big business. Clever marketing may make us feel they have our best interests at heart but their primary interests lie in your money and their responsibilities to their shareholders, see here for a very interesting discussion. Not your health.

Many people believe wheat to be addictive as earlier discussed and some studies suggest that gluten is itself potentially addictive. See here for a study which found opioid peptides derived from wheat gluten.

Purely speculating… but it interesting to consider that if indeed there is an addictive nature to the gluten could that explain why manufacturers add it to so much processed food?

Not a bad way to increase sales!

But that’s just a thought!


Disclaimer – this article is for information and educational purposes only; it is designed to provide helpful information regarding diet, lifestyle, and health. The information is not meant to be used, nor should it be used, to diagnose or treat any medical condition. For diagnosis and treatment of any medical condition please consult your medical professional. Always consult your healthcare professional for your individual needs, and it is also recommended to do so before starting any new dietary program.

About the author

Judith Ansty

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