You take a trip to the grocery store, and products you've always bought before are now plastered with flashy "gluten-free" designations. People you know are cutting gluten out of their diet for no apparent health reason. And, you even overhear a fitness coach advising a client to kick the gluten to the curb if they want more energy.
Gluten-containing food products make up a major portion of the typical American's diet. Most people take in between 5 and 20 grams of gluten per day. Some people have to avoid gluten because of food allergies or gluten sensitivities, but millions are eradicating gluten for other reasons. So, is all of this relatively new talk of going gluten-free stemming from legitimate concerns, or is this just a fad? Is gluten really bad for you? Here's what science says about the topic so far.
Gluten May Worsen Certain Autoimmune Conditions
Some types of autoimmune conditions can be exacerbated by gluten intake. Rheumatoid arthritis, type I diabetes, and Grave's disease are all examples of autoimmune diseases that have been shown to be affected by gluten intake. Multiple studies have been published between 1964 and 2016 regarding the effect of gluten on autoimmune diseases, and some theories suggest gluten can be an intrinsic factor in the development of such diseases. Gluten can mimic certain antigens when it enters the body, which can trigger an autoimmune response.
Gluten Has Been Linked to Specific Bowel Diseases
The way in which gluten breaks down in the intestines is why it can come along with issues like gas and bloating for some people. The proteins contained in gluten are resistant against existing protease enzymes found in the intestines, so they break down slower. People who already have certain bowel diseases like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or Chron's disease are often highly sensitive to gluten. However, science suggests that gluten could be more linked to such conditions than what is currently known. Gluten increases intestinal permeability because of its slow breakdown, and it is suspected this can lead to symptoms of certain bowel diseases.
Gluten May Cause Skin Issues for People without Celiac Disease
Skin problems are common for people who have celiac disease; they can experience a red, blistered and itchy rash that is diagnosed as dermatitis herpetiformis. However, the true celiac disease only affects about one percent of the American population. Even if you do not have celiac disease, gluten can generate skin issues in people who are more sensitive to the proteins. A study done in 2015 found some people had similar skin-related symptoms due to previously unfounded gluten sensitivity. Cutaneous (affecting the skin) gluten sensitivity is actually a diagnosable condition.
Some choose to avoid gluten because they feel better by doing so, and others follow a gluten-free nutrition plan because they have to. In all truth, much more information and insight are needed where gluten relates to the health of the human body is concerned, but scientific studies are consistently popping up. Avoiding gluten is not going to harm you, so eliminating it from your daily intake is a doable thing if you are concerned gluten is bad for you. As always, it is best to discuss any drastic dietary changes with your primary care physician beforehand.