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What is gluten and why should you avoid it?

Malcolm Harker Author The New Zealand Book of Health and Healing

“Gluten: is one of several protein principles within the endosperm (germ) of the grains WHEAT, RYE, OATS and BARLEY – also certain hybrid grains. It is very concentrated and adhesive, giving bread dough its tacky texture. During the turn of the century gluten was used as an efficient wallpaper paste!”

Dr Thomas O’Bryan DVD: Unlocking the Mystery of Gluten and Wheat Intolerance In this DVD, Dr O’Bryan explains when your immune system recognises gluten in the system and activates the antibodies to respond, they are active for 2-3 months. During this time those antibodies (soldiers) are attacking gut lining, nerve, brain, tissue, etc.

What is gluten?

Gluten is an umbrella term used to explain the protein found in many grasses including wheat, barley, triticale, rye, kamut and many more. Gluten is like the family name, but each of these individual grains has their own particular protein ‘strain’ – the protein in wheat is gliadin, rye is seculin, oats is avenin and so on.

When your GP runs tests for reactivity often they will test for gliadin (or alpha gliadin).

Only around 50% of those with coeliac disease will react to gliadin.

That’s a massive 50% of people who are potentially going undiagnosed simply because they don’t react to the standard test. No wonder so many coeliacs are undiagnosed! A grain looks like this (thanks Katherine Branch for your awesome artwork – you’re a legend).


The bran is the hard outer shell. The germ is where reproduction occurs and where Vitamin E may be sourced. The endosperm is the main ‘chunky’ part and that is where the protein comes from.

Where will you find gluten?

Gluten is a key ingredient in many modern foods including bread, baked goods, pastries, crackers, biscuits, and many processed foods (even sausages and bacon can contain gluten!) It binds and also allows for expansion. You will also find it in sauces, marinades, ice cream, medicine and supplements and… wait for it… body care products like shampoo. Oh my goodness – shampoo! Yes, so that’s good to know if your little one ends up with a face full of suds. If it goes in the mouth, check it out.

Why should you avoid gluten?

Well to be perfectly honest my question would be more like “why wouldn’t you avoid gluten?” Here are some of the top reasons I reckon it’s worth avoiding gluten:

  1. It can cause inflammation. Inflammation can lead to leaky gut. Leaky gut can lead to auto immune conditions like thyroid problems.
  2. It inhibits good digestion in many people
  3. We eat waaaay too much – often as many exposures as three meals a day (plus snacks)
  4. Gluten grains are often genetically modified and the gluten content is somewhere between 30-50% more than traditional grains (are you doing the maths? So much more gluten in the grains, being consumed so many times a day)
  5. It is not a friend of any autoimmune condition
  6. It contains a protein called zonulin which can impact the blood/brain barrier (Dr Alessio Fasano is the key researcher in this field – check out his work)
  7. (If you are a coeliac) When your immune system recognises gluten in the system and sends out the soldiers (the antibodies) they are active for 2-3 months. During this time those antibodies (soldiers) are attacking gut lining, nerve, brain, tissue, etc. (Dr Thomas O’Bryan)

Holy smoke! That’s 2-3 months of not getting the goodness out of your food no matter what you eat. That right there is reason enough to be very careful. If you haven’t yet investigated whether gluten could be causing your:

  • exhaustion
  • skin problems
  • fogginess
  • constipation
  • lethargy
  • anaemia
  • osteoporosis
  • behavioural problems; or
  • just not feeling great, then why not go on over and download the pdf “Could Gluten Be Making You Sick?” to read all about it. You don’t need to try to figure it all out on your own!

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Coeliac Disease (cd) is an auto immune disease. But what does that even mean?

Let me put it like this…. You know that dog on funniest home videos who keeps chasing it’s own tail trying to bite it because he thinks it’s trying to attack him? That is what an auto immune disease is like. Through misread signals your own body attacks itself. Crazy right? Your immune system is sending out soldiers to attack the perceived enemy (gluten) and those soldiers (antibodies) don’t recognize where they’re meant to attack. They end up attacking the homeland (villi in coeliac disease, joints in arthritis, skin in eczema, brain tissue in alzheimers) instead. Coeliac Massive thanks to Katherine Branch for your interpretive villi! These miniscule structures (villi) enable the nutrients from food to be passed into your bloodstream. So when these villi become damaged, a state of villous atrophy (flattening of villi) occurs and if left undiagnosed, malnutrition and serious health conditions may develop. In a nutshell, the body wrongly reacts to gluten, damaging the little villi and resulting in a state where the body cannot absorb any nutrients from food.  Over time this is why the types of conditions linked with Coeliac Disease exist – they are often to do with being malnourished… like osteoporosis.

It is reported that 1 in 80 Australian females have Coeliac Disease but only 75% are diagnosed.

How do I know if I have coeliac disease?

It’s the age old question…”how do I know if I have coeliac disease?” Chances are you just don’t know. But you probably know that something isn’t quite right, right? Lord when I look back I had symptoms coming out of my ears but I just didn’t know what they all meant (and nor did my doctors, for that matter). There are a few things that make coeliac disease (cd) a bit tricky sometimes to diagnose.

  1. You may have no symptoms (so how the heck do I know anything is even wrong?). The fancy way to say this is ‘asymptomatic’
  2. Your symptoms may not be in your gut (as most of us expect coeliac symptoms to be). They could show up through your skin, mental wellbeing, joints, energy levels and so on
  3. You may not test positive for cd but you may have non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (confused yet?)


So part of my answer to you is TRUST YOUR GUT. If you have a family history of cd, if you feel unwell and can’t get to the bottom of it, if you have any of the symptoms in the rather extensive list, then it’s worth pushing for more information. Coeliac Disease can be asymptomatic (symptom-free or ‘clinically silent’).  You do not need to have all, or even a percentage of the possible symptoms to have Coeliac Disease. This one is a real doozy. It’s amazing how many people think they can’t possibly have it because they only bloat sometimes or the fogginess is because they’re not getting enough sleep. “Denial”. Your symptoms are not an indication of the potential damage being done. Coeliac Disease can also be linked back to genetics – eeek.If you have a first degree relative (mother, father, sibling) with coeliac disease, there’s a 10% likelihood of you having it too. Sometimes cd can be triggered by stress – something as common as a bout of gastro can be enough to get those antibody soldiers sent to war. To make all this a bit clearer, there are actually a good bunch of symptoms you can look out for to make it just a little easier. Swing on over to the symptoms link to read all about it.

Testing for Coeliac Disease

If you’ve already read the page “How do I know if I have Coeliac Disease?” you’re probably chomping at the bit for some real symptoms you can look out for. Before the list begins, I want you to remember this: you may have all of the symptoms, some of them, or none of them. That will have no bearing on your coeliac status, OK?

Testing for Coeliac Disease

I have gone right ahead and made a brochure with all of the information you’ll need to know about what tests should be done, who will do them, and what info you need to take with you to the doctor.


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In adults:

  • Anxiety
  • Bloating (a very uncomfortable feeling)
  • Constipation (or a flux between both)
  • Depression
  • Diarrhoea
  • Dry skin
  • Easy bone breaks (this is because over time a lack of nutrition leads to osteoporosis)
  • Easy bruising
  • Fogginess (lack of mental clarity)
  • Gas
  • Infertility
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy (often extreme)/exhaustion/fatigue
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea
  • Poor/slow immune response
  • Stomach cramps
  • Weight gain or loss

In children also watch out for:

  • Abdominal distention (that’s where the tummy sticks out like a beer drinking old man)
  • Anaemia
  • Irritability (hard to spot sometimes in little people – is it boundary testing or irritability?)
  • Large, bulky, malodorous stools
  • Poor attention span
  • Poor weight gain


If you would like to make an appointment or have any questions, please get in touch with Bee.

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