Why are some people gluten intolerant?


“Our ancestors were able to digest complex foods, why not us?” writes Dr Dimple Jangda, an Ayurveda and gut health coach on Instagram. Explaining that gluten is a protein present in cereals such as wheat, barley, and rye, she shared that a person who is intolerant to gluten may experience symptoms such as bloating, digestive problems, diarrohea, constipation, vomiting, tiredness, fatigue, body aches, bone or joint pain, headaches, depression, anxiety, brain fog, numbness, and itchy skin (dermatitis herpetiformis). “The symptoms can be different in each person,” she further wrote. But why are some people gluten intolerant?

Dr Dimple, quoting some studies, mentioned that people may not be sensitive to gluten, but to a certain carbohydrate found in many foods. “Their bodies don’t absorb the carbohydrate as they should. As a result, it stays in their gut and starts fermenting with the bacteria in the small intestine, leading to bloating, gas, flatulence, cramps, pain, and discomfort,” she mentioned.

 

Agreeing, Vaishali Marathe, chief dietician, Medicover Hospitals said, “The inside of the small intestine is lined with ‘villi’ that aids the absorption of nutrients from food with the help of a chime, which also helps breakdown food components in the stomach. However, when villi are unable to absorb nutrients like protein present in wheat, barley, and rye, it leads to gluten intolerance or gluten sensitivity.”

Listing other reasons, Dr Dimple wrote that “genetically modified seeds is a rather modern agricultural phenomenon where seeds are modified to contain specific characteristics such as resistance to herbicides or resistance to pests.” These, in turn, become difficult for the human digestive system to break down. “Quite often these seeds are also grown in soil that has been stripped away of natural nutrients or grown in wrong seasons,” she added.

She also mentioned ‘leaky gut syndrome’ — when the gut starts leaking nutrients and undigested food particles into the bloodstream — as a probable cause. This may cause “an autoimmune response and food intolerances,” she added. According to Vaishali, “People suffering from celiac disease, an autoimmune disease, should completely avoid gluten as it can cause intestinal damage and prevent the body from absorbing essential nutrients.”

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What can be done to combat gluten intolerance?

Dr Dimple suggested replacing gluten with other easy-to-digest healthier options like millet. “Millets are a highly varied group of small-seeded grasses widely grown around the world as cereal crops or grains for fodder and human food.” There are seven kinds of millets, namely pearl millet (bajra), finger millet (ragi), amaranth (ranjhira), buckwheat millet (kuttu), barnyard millet, foxtail millet, and kodo millet.

“These foods are easier to digest and rarely cause intolerance when well cooked. Also, maybe because they are less expensive or easier to grow, these seeds haven’t been genetically modified much and retain their original characteristics so far,” wrote Dr Dimple.

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