More commonly known as gluten intolerance, coeliac disease is, in some ways, the body’s self-defence system informing the sufferer that CARBS in the shape of wheat and barley are not what they are dressed up to be and are in fact poisonous. Gluten is the protein found in grain and for some people it triggers an autoimmune reaction in the small intestine.
Several years before we started living primally, at the age of six, my daughter Jessica was described by our doctor as being sensitive to gluten, and we were recommended to cut bread and cereals from her diet. While it is estimated that only one in 100 people suffer from coeliac disease, being sensitive to gluten appears to be far more common. As grains weren’t part of our ancestral past and were first farmed just 12,000 years ago, I would argue that, in some sense that all humans are sensitive to gluten, but we don’t all demonstrate symptoms.
The website www.celiac.org introduces the disease as follows, “Coeliac disease can develop at any age after people start eating foods or medicines that contain gluten. Left untreated, coeliac disease can lead to additional serious health problems. These include the development of other autoimmune disorders like type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis (MS), dermatitis herpetiformis (an itchy skin rash), anaemia, osteoporosis, infertility and miscarriage, neurological conditions like epilepsy and migraines, short stature and intestinal cancers”. For the sceptics out there still struggling to come to terms with the fact that most neurological conditions start in the gut, hopefully the above description should act as further proof that what we eat affects far more than just our waistline.
When people with coeliac disease eat grains, their body mounts an immune response that attacks the small intestine. These attacks damage the villi inside the gut. When our villi become damaged, whether from gluten or other diseases or intolerances, the gut is unable to properly digest nutrients and therefore we open the door to an onslaught of health problems. In his book, Brain Maker, neurologist Dr David Perlmutter says, “My patients often reach me only after they’ve been to a slew of other doctors and have ‘tried everything’. Whether they’re suffering from headaches or migraines, anxiety, ADHD, depression, memory problems, MS, ALS, autism or just some odd set of neurological symptoms with no definite label, one of the first things I do is prescribe the total elimination of gluten from their diets. And I continue to be astounded by the results”.
One of the simplest ways to avoid gluten is to live primally and eat as our distant ancestors did. As you have already discovered in this book, our gut and brain are inextricably linked. Taking good care of our microbiome is like taking out insurance for the brain.
‘Avoid gluten and mass-produced packaged foods stuffed full of high fructose corn syrup’ was the first dietary advice I gave my two grown-up children when I started to take my own health and longevity seriously. And, it’s a great bit of advice for people who prefer bite-sized chunks of information rather than fully diving in.