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Your Body on Grain

Flour is hard to sidestep come mealtime. Breakfast brims with toast, bagels, cereal, pancakes. Lunch is built around sandwiches, wraps, pasta, pizza. And dinner may come with its very own breadbasket.

Flours are produced by crushing grains into fine powders. And those powders form the basis not just for breads and rolls, but for a huge variety of processed foods, from cereals, crackers and pizza dough to cookies, cakes and ice cream cones. As a result, the average American now eats 10 servings of refined grains each day.

The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association estimates that there are around 50 million people in the United States with an autoimmune disease, and suggests that its prevalence is increasing. In other words, that is 1 in 6 individuals. And although autoimmune diseases and their underlying processes are becoming better understood, what isn’t talked about is the link between autoimmune disease and diet.

Many health practitioners believe that avoiding gluten— a protein in wheat, barley, rye, and oats— only makes sense for individuals with Celiac’s Disease. However, evidence suggests that it may be important for anyone with an autoimmune condition to remove gluten from their diet because of the role that grains play in the development of autoimmune diseases. Not just glutenous grains… all grains. A diet high in flours made from wheat or other grains affects every system in the body. Here’s a quick guide to flour’s extensive effects.

Brain: The proteins in wheat directly affect the brain. Able to cross the blood–brain barrier, wheat-derived substances attach to the brain’s opiate receptors and trigger appetite and cravings.

Blood: Levels of sugar in the blood spike within a few short minutes of eating foods made from flour. The chains of simple sugars, especially those in wheat, cause a greater spike in blood sugar than virtually any other food, including table sugar.

Pancreas: The pancreas has to produce a lot of insulin to digest the glucose in flour-rich foods, which can set the body up for insulin resistance, diabetes, and body-wide inflammation.

Waistline: Over weeks and months, the yo-yo effect of rising and falling blood sugar and insulin levels increases the body’s fat storage around the abdomen. We refer to this as visceral fat, this extra padding is hormonally active, producing a disruptive range of inflammatory signals and even sex hormones, like estrogen.

Gut: The cells that line the walls of your intestines form a tightly woven barrier. But a protein called zonulin can create holes in the body’s intestinal armor, allowing particles of food to pass through the gut’s lining undigested. Wheat contains a protein called gliadin that causes excess production of zonulin. As a result, the body’s immune system goes into chronic overdrive. Food allergies and sensitivities may develop as a result of gut inflammation, along with variety of digestive, skin, and other chronic conditions.

Colon: Over time, the blood-sugar highs and lows that result from a flour-rich diet can damage nerve cells that drive gut motility. Eventually, transit time slows and traffic backs up.

While the majority of the population does not have an autoimmune disease, research indicates that non-Celiac, healthy individuals who consume gluten still experience mucosal changes and damage to the cells in our gut lining. So if those cells are damaged and gut permeability increases— and autoimmune gene proteins get into systemic circulation— you may unknowingly be putting yourself at risk for an autoimmune disease especially if you have a family history of autoimmune conditions.

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