Gluten has been around since the beginning of recorded history, so it's not something new. What’s new is the alarming increase in people exhibiting an allergic reaction to this very natural substance. In our research, we’ve seen recent statistics that put the gluten-allergic population in the United States at 1 in every 160 adults. (sorry, we don’t have stats for other countries or the world as a whole – if you know of any reliable information, please click Contact Us and share your details – thanks!) Even more interesting is that this number has grown substantially in the last 20 years and shows no sign of slowing down.
So, what’s causing the increase in gluten allergy?
NOTE: The information that follows on this page is LifeAfterGluten.com editorial opinion and NOT scientific fact, although we think things are headed that way… Please review our 'Gluten Free' Disclaimer and consult your health care professional for guidance specifically for you.
In the last fifty years the world’s agricultural sources have produced more food per acre than at any time in history. Even with the craziness in global weather patterns etc, farmers have been getting higher and higher yields from farm lands AND food processing techniques have become ‘more efficient’, thus producing more metric tons of consumable food.
This is certainly good news for parts of the world where food shortages and starvation affect millions of people, but there is another side to this coin, namely the food processing issue. Food is processed for a variety of reasons but it usually comes down to money. By processing food, it can be made to last longer on the shelf or be ‘fortified’ with ingredients that cost-effectively add to it’s calorie content, i.e. additives and fillers.
The processing of food often strips away foods’ outer husk (or hull) and makes the inner ingredients more available for combination with other ingredients. This processing also makes the food more readily digestible when consumed. Think of it kinda like raw honey. Remember in school when you learned that raw honey was a very basic source of carbohydrates and could be digested easily getting the honey’s sugar into the bloodstream almost immediately after consumption. Well, processed food is similar in that your body doesn’t have to use your perfectly capable digestive system to break down food’s outer layer (which often contain critical nutrients) to get at the ‘inside’ food (think endosperm or heart of the grain – see What’s Gluten).
In the short term or in small doses, this is fine, but in large scale, constant situations, our collective body (the greater population as a whole) is evolving in a not so good way. Because so much of our food is processed, our bodies are losing the ability to efficiently do the digesting (think internal processing) on our own. We think that the initial processes that break down the hull of certain whole foods produces byproducts, enzymes and digestive acids, that aid in the subsequent digestion of ‘inner’ food sources. And so over time some people lose the ability to properly digest certain compounds and the result is the recent increase in all sorts of food allergies, including gluten. Another way to think about it is your body is building a fire with the food you eat. This fire delivers the energy you need to live. Your body uses the outer portion of whole foods to start a small kindling fire that will then grow into a larger fire that can easily consume the inner food source that may have more caloric value but requires a ‘bigger fire’ to be consumed efficiently and entirely.
Question: Ever try starting a fire by lighting a full-sized log covered with bark using only a match? It’s difficult. That’s why you use small twigs, branches and paper as kindling to get things started gradually.
In digestion, when the ‘kindling fire’ doesn’t occur at the beginning and digestive processes break down, your body encounters food stuff that can’t be properly digested for nutrient absorption by your intestines. Your body doesn’t like this undigested stuff and produces an allergic response to get rid of things. And your body knows how to get rid of things when it’s not happy. Think about an upset tummy, some gurgling and then a quick dash to the bathroom. You get the idea.
In short, by doing the processing in a factory and not in your belly, our (collective) digestive system has become lazy and can’t handle food that our ancestors have been eating without issue for millenia. Modern food processing has helped deliver more food to more people, but in doing so some people have been affected by the unintended consequence of being unable to digest common foods.
Let’s hit the fast forward button say 100 years or maybe 1,000 years. If the rise in food allergies continues, our food processing systems will be forced to leave foods in a more whole or natural state. Our bodies will react and become more adept at handling all sorts of foods. A diverse diet of whole foods will help the population get back to healthy, strong digestive capabilities. Think of it as strength training for our collective digestive system. The universe has a way of returning things to balance even when mankind plays around with the controls.
Again, this is non-scientific, editorial opinion by The LifeAfterGluten Crew and is subject to change as new scientific information is available. If you agree, disagree or have a different perspective, we’d enjoy hearing your thoughts. Feel free to Contact Us with your thoughts.