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Is Gluten Causing Dementia (Part 1)

Blog January 13th, 2015

Part I – What is Gluten and How Does it Affect the Body?

Not being a chef, horticulturalist, or personal trainer myself, I find the movements in the food industry pretty fascinating.

It wasn’t long ago that people were really pushing us to eat organic and buy local – still very prominent. From there, we continually learned about food ingredients and how “natural flavors” aren’t really “natural,” or how about learning that “whole wheat” isn’t actually “whole wheat” unless it’s labelled as “100% whole wheat.” And now there’s the whole “green washing” term where “organic” doesn’t even mean organic. Yeesh!

It’s hard enough to eat healthy, let alone to know what we’re eating!

Of course, numerous studies show correlations between our health and our diets. Sounds obvious, right? I mean, “You are what you eat,” but since it’s hard enough to know what we’re eating, these studies are all the more pertinent.

Which brings us to one of the most recent nutrition trends, gluten-free foods and the question is: Is Gluten Causing Dementia?

But before we can jump into that…

What is Gluten?

Gluten is most commonly associated with flour because it makes up the proteins found in wheat. It aids in giving dough its elasticity and subsequent chewiness.

Why is Gluten Bad?

There are actually some conflicting views on this. Some scholars claim that (historically) we’ve always been gluten intolerant and only now are the majority of peoples actually building up a tolerance to it. However, others state that gluten intolerance is affecting more and more people (especially in the United States) and it’s actually affecting one in every 141 people.

Originally, gluten intolerance was considered synonymous with Celiac disease or – the less common – wheat allergy. The problem is today, more and more people are showing symptoms of Celiac disease without the ramifications it has on the large intestines. It’s considered gluten sensitivity and it triggers the same response as gluten intolerance.

Gluten intolerance causes the body’s immune system to trigger an irregular response where the body breaks down the villi and microvilli in the intestines which are necessary to absorb nutrients. (Villi and Microvilli are essentially cilia, like the kind that line your lungs, ears, and throat.) It’s why people usually suffer from diarrhea and fatigue (and in some cases, weight gain) when they’re gluten intolerant.

And, let’s face it, gluten is in flour which is in a lot of – what we consider – standard meals (ex. French fries, pasta, bread, beer, the list goes on!).

Whew!

Now that we’ve clarified what gluten intolerance is and how it affects the body, we can go into how it may be causing dementia. Dementia and Alzheimer’s affect over five million Americans, and currently there is no cure… but if we can help prevent it with proper dieting and nutrition, then it’s something we should pursue perforce.

If gluten is weakening your immune system, it’s making you more susceptible to additional conditions.

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