Recently I was asked ” What does GF stand for?”, My response of course Gluten-free, which sprung up a whole new conversation on what Gluten really is and where can you find it. The answer is easy, it is in almost everything packaged, unless of course it is certified gluten-free. I have copied some definitions from Wikipedia below that will explain just what gluten does, and what the sensitivities are in forms of intolerance and disease.
Gluten (from Latin gluten, “glue“) is a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related grain species, including barley and rye. It gives elasticity to dough, helping it to rise and to keep its shape, and often giving the final product a chewy texture.
Gluten sensitivity (also gluten intolerance) is a spectrum of disorders, including celiac disease and wheat allergy, in which gluten has an adverse effect on the body. It can be defined as a non-allergic and non-autoimmune condition in which the consumption of gluten can lead to symptoms similar to those observed in celiac disease or wheat allergy (other conditions which fall under the gluten-related disorders spectrum).
Gluten sensitivity is thought to affect approximately 6% of the general population. Symptoms of gluten sensitivity include bloating, abdominal discomfort, pain or diarrhea; or it may present with a variety of extraintestinal symptoms including headaches and migraines, lethargy and tiredness, attention-deficit disorder and hyperactivity, schizophrenia, muscular disturbances as well as bone and joint pain.
Until recently, the terms gluten sensitivity and celiac disease were used interchangeably in literature. However, emerging research is beginning to identify the differences that exist between celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. If the medical history of a patient, along with clinical tests, rule out celiac disease and wheat allergy, a diagnosis of gluten sensitivity can be considered. However, certain criteria need to be met before a diagnosis of gluten sensitivity can be confirmed (see diagnosis section). Treatment for all three conditions is a gluten-free diet; the difference being that with wheat allergy the interruption is temporary and drugs may be administered; in the case of celiac disease the diet is lifelong and even ingesting very small amounts of gluten-containing food could damage their health and, in the case of gluten sensitivity the withdrawal of gluten from the diet may only be temporary.
Gluten is a protein composite found in foods processed from wheat and related species, including barley and rye. It gives elasticity to dough helping it to rise and to keep its shape. It is found in many staple foods in the Western diet. Gluten is composed of a gliadin fraction (alcohol soluble) and a glutenin fraction (only soluble in dilute acids or alkali).
Coeliac disease /ˈsiːli.æk/; spelled celiac disease in North America and often celiac sprue) is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine that occurs in genetically predisposed people of all ages from middle infancy onward. Symptoms include chronic diarrhoea, failure to thrive (in children), and fatigue, but these may be absent, and symptoms in other organ systems have been described.
A growing portion of diagnoses is being made in asymptomatic persons as a result of increased screening; the condition is thought to affect between 1 in 1,750 and 1 in 105 people in the United States. Coeliac disease is caused by a reaction to gliadin, a prolamin (gluten protein) found in wheat, and similar proteins found in the crops of the tribe Triticeae (which includes other common grains such as barley and rye).
Upon exposure to gliadin, and specifically to three peptides found in prolamins, the enzyme tissue transglutaminase modifies the protein, and the immune system cross-reacts with the small-bowel tissue, causing an inflammatory reaction. That leads to a truncating of the villi lining the small intestine (called villous atrophy). This interferes with the absorption of nutrients, because the intestinal villi are responsible for absorption. The only known effective treatment is a lifelong gluten-free diet. While the disease is caused by a reaction to wheat proteins, it is not the same as wheat allergy.
This condition has several other names, including: cœliac disease (with œ ligature), c(o)eliac sprue, non-tropical sprue, endemic sprue, gluten enteropathy or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, and gluten intolerance. The term coeliac derived from the Greek κοιλιακός (koiliakós, “abdominal”), and was introduced in the 19th century in a translation of what is generally regarded as an ancient Greek description of the disease by Aretaeus of Cappadocia.
Symptoms of Gluten sensitivity:
Symptoms of gluten sensitivity may include bloating, abdominal discomfort, pain, or diarrhea; or it may present with a variety of extraintestinal symptoms including headaches and migraines, lethargy and tiredness, attention-deficit disorder and hyperactivity, muscular disturbances as well as bone and joint pain.
The difference between Gluten Intolerance and Celiac Disease:
While the research surrounding gluten sensitivity is still very much emerging, celiac disease is a well-defined condition. It is a lifelong autoimmune condition characterised by the chronic inflammation of the intestine. In genetically predisposed children and adults the intake of foods containing gluten leads to an immune response in the small intestine. This results in the flattening of the intestinal villi and in reduced absorption of nutrients from food which can lead to nutritional deficiencies and associated long-term complications such as osteoporosis. It is believed celiac disease affects 1% of the general population in the Western world.
In comparison, in a recent clinical paper, gluten sensitivity was defined as ‘one or more of a variety of immunological, morphological or symptomatic manifestations that may also be shared by celiac disease and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In cases where there is reactivity to gluten, yet celiac disease and wheat allergy are eliminated as possibilities, gluten sensitivity may be considered. Whilst the general clinical picture for gluten sensitivity is similar to celiac disease in particular, it is usually less severe and neither anti-tissue transglutaminase antibodies nor autoimmune comorbidities are found.
It is believed that approximately 40-50% of gluten sensitivity patients may have IgG or IgA anti-gliadin antibodies (AGA) There is also a study identifying approximately 50% of gluten sensitivity patients, few more than the general population, carry either HLA DQ 2 or 8 
On closer inspection, it has also been found that gluten-sensitive subjects do not develop full histological lesions; their lesions, if any, are limited to types 0-1 of the Marsh classification. In addition, it has been found that they have normal intestinal permeability and an increased expression of Toll Like receptors 2 (TLR2) but no change in the cytokines involved in adaptive immune responses Th1 and Th17 such as IL-6, IL-17 A, IL 21, which are increased only in patients with celiac disease. The knowledge of the response in gluten sensitivity to date suggests that only the innate immune system is involved, whereas celiac disease is an adaptive immune response (autoimmunity).
Gluten sensitivity should have a defined cause, although not apparent always with first examination, affected individuals should eventually fall into GSE or wheat allergy. Only rarely should gluten sensitivity be idiopathic. Idiopathic gluten sensitivity (IGS) arises spontaneously or from an obscure or unknown cause and may involve neuropathy, myopathy, dermal, or intestinal abnormalities. Anti-gliadin antibodies are the primary link between gluten and idiopathic sensitivity in instances “in which enteropathy or allergy are not clearly involved”. This form of gluten sensitivity is controversial at the moment but there is a growing body of research to support the concept of gluten sensitivity that is different from celiac disease and wheat allergy.
So what do you do if you think you may have a gluten sensitivity? My recommendation, remove yourself from all Gluten for at least 4-6 weeks, this will give your body time to rebalance itself and remove the excess toxins from your system. After 4-6 weeks of complete gluten-free eating, carefully introducing yourself back into gluten filled items and see if there is any change. More than likely after 4-6 weeks of eating gluten-free, you will have already noticed a great deal of improvement, less bloating, cramping, gas, headaches, joint pain and fatigue? If you find yourself getting sick after re-introducing yourself back to gluten, see a physician and ask about being tested for Celiac disease. Be aware that you can have an allergy or intolerance and not show signs of the Celiac Sprue.
Are you interested in making a healthy choice for your body, but don’t have any symptoms to make you believe that Gluten affects you personally? I didn’t either, but chose to make the change and am thanking myself for it everyday. I would like to recommend that those wondering about the gluten in our foods and what it really does to your digestive system to take the time to read: The Wheat Belly Book.
Don’t be scared, there are many resources, blogs and products on the market today to make this an easy transition for those looking to make the change and take control of their health.
Gluten Free Goddess Blog
Glutenfree on a shoestring
Better Batter Gluten Free Flour Blend and Mixes
Gift’s of Nature
Jules Gluten Free Flour Blend
Pamela’s Baking Mix
Synder’s of Hanover Gluten Free pretzels
Mrs. Leepers Corn Pasta
Ancient Harvest Quinoa Pasta
Heartland Rice and Corn Pasta
Rice Krispie’s Gluten Free
Betty Crocker Gluten Free Mixes
Gluten Free Bisquick
Bob’s Red Mill
Do be afraid to make the step…Let’s do this together!