Gluten – a Gluten-Free Diet and gut bacteria
Gluten is a hot topic and some people are clearly ‘gluten intolerant’ – adopting a gluten free diet gives them more energy, vigour and stops numerous stomach problems from IBS to Crohn’s. However, a gluten-Free Diet actually seems to weaken their bodies in the longer-term. Hope is at hand as we begin to understand the microbiome better.
Celiac disease (coeliac disease in the UK) or CD is an enteropathy caused by an aberrant immune response to cereal gluten proteins and, historically, the only therapy has been the adherence to a Gluten-free Diet (GFD) (1).
The Gluten-Free Diet and Celiac Disease
So celiac disease is ‘officially’ an ‘auto-immune disease’ that can damage the small intestine lining, and even prevent proper food absorption.
The damage is due to a reaction to eating gluten – a polysaccharide found in wheat, barley, rye and, possibly, oats. Some people (for example, exponenents of The Paleo Diet) claim that these are modern crops and that they should form no part of a healthy diet. Symptoms include bloating, diarrhea, weight loss and allergic skin rashes.
The problem is that this simple solution – don’t eat any gluten – hides the real issue. And research, as we shall see, shows it can even harm your health!
The important role of gut bacteria
The fact is that certain people are not gluten intolerant – their microbiome is.
The make-up of bacteria in their gut has been compromised (even since birth) and they do not have the bacteria capable of processing gluten.
Let me provide a short explanation.
The microbiome is all over your body; in every wet, dark and warm place. Nowhere more so than in your gut, where about 800 strains of bacteria reside in a population totaling 90 trillion cells. Your own body only has 7 trillion cells.
The bacteria in the gut have 75,000 genes; you only have 25,000.
They control you. FACT. They can even provide genetic ‘traits in families that have nothing to do with your genes, but all to do with theirs (2).
They build your immune system and immune memory. The commensal bacteria (the good guys) at night consume up to 2.2 pounds of yeasts and microbes that came in on your foods during the day. And the friendly bacteria make certain compounds essential to your good health – yes, MAKE, not help release from your food.
For example, they MAKE B vitamins, vitamin K and short-chain esters that prevent the build up of bad fat in the body, and many are anti-inflammatory; one, sodium butyrate, even kills cancer cells.
Of course, to a degree, you control them too. You can poison them with drugs like antibiotics, common chemicals like Triclosan, and even bacteria-killing cyanide in GMO foods. You can smoke, eat lots of pickles, have too much stress, and this will change the acidity of their environment only allowing certain to flourish.
There is a lot of non-sense talked about antibiotics. Antibiotics, like many drugs – do not wipe out all your bacteria in a short 5-day course. It’s far worse than that! The commensal bacteria are fragile and are killed off after just a couple of days. Some of the pathogens are hardy – it can take 8 weeks and they still might survive. So a dose of antibiotics to a child can completely change the make up of their gut bacteria for the worse. Kids given antibiotics in the first 18 months of their lives are 7 times more likely to develop Asthma or some other respiratory intolerance by the age of 8.
Intollerance? Yes, that is exactly what all this is about.
The Book ‘Heal Your Gut – Heal Your Body’ by Chris Woollams, explains that the latest research shows clearly that your gut bacteria get ill first, then you get ill. And you cannot get better until they get better.
What does your bacteria ‘getting ill’ mean – it means they lose volume, and they lose diversity. There are less good guys to keep the pathogens in check. And pathogens can produce toxic chemicals, inflammatory chemicals and ‘bad’ messages that affect both your physical and mental states.
And the balance of the gut bacteria can change very quickly. A day eating wheat gives you a microbiome close to that of a type-2 diabetic. A day eating cows’ dairy gives you a microbiome with bacteria that are strongly inflammatotory.
The DANGERS of a Gluten-Free Diet (GFD)
Research has shown that healthy people who go on a GFD for a month, end up LOSING large numbers of commensal bacteria, resulting in a decline in the immune system (1). The numbers of healthy bacteria decline; and the numbers of unhealthy bacteria increase, in line with the decrease in volume of polysaccharide consumption.
You have reduced the immune reaction in your gut, and damaged your immune response overall. Worse, you have increased the balance in the microbiome in favour of the pathogens.
This is no surprise. Research in 2015 showed that people on high-fibre diets boosted your immune system. The fact is that human cells do not make the digestive enzymes to break down polysaccharides. Only the commensal bacteria do. And feeding them increases their numbers and boosts cytokines and white cell populations.
The GFD was repeated with children in 2015, again showing a reduction in healthy bacteria and immune response, but an increase in unhealthy bacteria (3).
Far from getting back to a ‘Paleo era’ and avoiding unnatural crops, the issue is almost certainly avoiding unnatural chemicals that are playing havoc with our gut bacteria.
The Solution is on its way!
We already know that lactose intolerance can be treated by re-introducing certain types of bacteria back into our guts. So, we can only hope that one day the same will apply to gluten. People cannot keep compromising their immune system and increasing pathogenic bacteria just to avoid gluten. Work is already in-hand. In 2014 (4) researchers investigated the bacteria that were essential to gluten digestion. I quote:
Twenty-two human faecal samples were cultured with gluten as the principal nitrogen source, and 144 strains belonging to 35 bacterial species that may be involved in gluten metabolism in the human gut were isolated. Interestingly, 94 strains were able to metabolise gluten, 61 strains showed an extracellular proteolytic activity against gluten proteins, and several strains showed a peptidasic activity towards the 33-mer peptide, an immunogenic peptide in patients with coeliac disease. Most of the strains were classified within the phyla Firmicutes and Actinobacteria, mainly from the genera Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, Clostridium and Bifidobacterium.
In conclusion, the human intestine exhibits a large variety of bacteria capable of utilising gluten proteins and peptides as nutrients. These bacteria could have an important role in gluten metabolism and could offer promising new treatment modalities for coeliac disease.
Diet is inexorably linked to gut health and it is noteworthy that the diet is high in consumption of bacteria – marinated raw fish and unpasteurized milk for starters. The lifestyle is hardly sterile – all round the Mediterranean people eat with their hands, and drink water from the mountains not from chlorinated sources. Mouthwash? GMO foods?
The Rainbow Diet doesn’t particularly involve grains – with the exception of oats, although some wheat products are used on both shores of the Mediterranean.
To start to fix your gut, you might like to read ‘Heal Your Gut – Heal Your Body‘ or stick to the tubers and pulses of the Rainbow Diet.