You are very likely in one of two camps: Either you just lost another friend to the gluten-free trend, or you are that friend. Many people have found some amazing health benefits by cutting foods with gluten out of their diet. Others look at gluten-free people like they are crazy. After all, everything that tastes good has gluten in it, right?
While that is not true, it is understandable that some skeptics might believe that. Yes, the benefits to cutting gluten out of the diet can be legitimate, but could there also be benefits to sports performance? How do you know if cutting gluten out of your diet is good for you? What are the possible benefits, and would they be worth it?
ALLERGY VERSUS SENSITIVITY
First, it is important to understand what gluten is. Gluten is a family of proteins that are common in a lot of foods that have grains in them. The most notorious is bread. Gluten is what gives bread that satisfying texture and doughiness.
But these tasty particles can cause problems when they reach the digestive tract. For some, these problems can be very severe. About 1 percent of the population has a condition called celiac disease. For those who have celiac disease, eating gluten triggers an immune response in the body, causing inflammation and damage to the small intestine.
For the rest of us, it can be much trickier to determine if gluten is causing a problem. Although allergies like the one present in celiac disease cause an immediate severe reaction to gluten, more moderate sensitivities may be subtle and delayed.
Many people who claim to be allergic to gluten actually have a gluten sensitivity. For those who fall into this group, the reaction to the gluten they eat in a piece of bread on Thursday could potentially start to cause issues before a big competition on Saturday.
Understanding a little bit of physiology might make this more clear. Your digestive tract walls are very thin and there should not be any large openings in these walls. Problems arise when the junctions between the cells of the digestive tract do not work correctly and openings occur.
When people are sensitive to gluten, a natural chemical in our bodies called zonulin overreacts. Some re- searchers say that increased zonulin causes increased permeability of the digestive system, which can lead to problems. These openings will let more food particles get through, which can wreak havoc.
In the case of someone with gluten sensitivity, the immune system inter- acts with these food particles and activates a type of antibody that has a delayed response, as opposed to the type of antibody that provides a more immediate response in the case of an allergy.
When the walls of the digestive system are disturbed, the absorption of necessary nutrients can be prevented. This condition is called leaky gut. The symptoms for leaky gut are wide and varied and can include chronic diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating, excessive fatigue, a poor immune system, headaches and more. The wide array of possible symptoms can make diagnosing the problem difficult. Leaky-gut-like symptoms, even if occasional, may be the first sign that you have a gluten sensitivity. The lack of proper absorption in the digestive tract can also mean your body is not getting the nutrients to perform and recover properly for sports.
The particles of food that are not supposed to pass through the wall of the digestive system but do cause inflammation, which can be the ultimate health foe. All medical conditions involve some degree of inflammation and sometimes simply controlling that can help a person heal.
Every person has different genetics and different levels of susceptibility to various conditions and inflammation. This means that no one dietary modification will help everyone. Many people forget this when the latest dietary buzz, like going gluten-free, hits mainstream. Fortunately, this genetic variance means that it also might be worth learning about or giving that trend a try.