Toronto naturopath Dr. Jodi Larry practices family medicine, with a strong focus on mental health (anxiety, depression and stress management), women’s health and digestive health. All naturopathic treatments are used in her practice with an emphasis on nutrition, herbal remedies, counseling and acupuncture.
In the past five years gluten has become a word that pops up everywhere—celebs are going gluten free, gluten is a hot topic in the health world, and there are gluten-free stores, restaurants and products galore. But even with all the hype, gluten still remains a mystery for most.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in common grains like wheat, rye and barley. It is a component of most breads and carbohydrates (think pasta, pastries, pizza), but it can also be found in sauces, dressings and condiments. People with celiac disease must avoid gluten at all costs. They endure massive intestinal discomfort when ingesting gluten, as well as nutritional deficiencies that result from intestinal inflammation and malabsorption. People on a gluten-free diet who have celiac disease have adopted a gluten-free life without any other choice. They are at the extreme of the spectrum.
There is another group of people (a massive group actually) that does not have celiac but suffers from gluten sensitivity or intolerance. When they ingest this protein, they may experience a range of symptoms, including:
- bloating after eating
- fatigue after eating
- constipation (less than 1 bowel movement per day)
- loose stools
- stomach cramps
- upset stomach
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
How to know if your symptoms are caused by gluten
Gluten is a very hard protein for the body to break down. It requires a strong digestive tract and a lot of energy. This poses a problem for people with an already sluggish or weak bowel. Since gluten is so challenging to break down, adding it to a compromised system will only make matters worse. If your colon has been symptomatic (with the above symptoms) for a period of time, ingesting gluten will almost always exacerbate it.
In the last six years of my practice, I have come to specialize in digestive health, specifically helping people overcome IBS. What I have seen from experience is that when people with IBS eliminate gluten fully from their diet, symptoms almost always get better! Gluten elimination also leads to increased energy, better skin and less inflammation and pain.
The culprit is not always gluten though. Sugar, dairy and processed foods can also be at the root of the problem. The best way to really dig deep and discover an answer for yourself is to embark on a cleanse program. When participating in a cleanse you eliminate all possible triggers for a 10-day period so the body can heal itself. Once symptoms are eliminated and digestion is restored, you slowly incorporate one food group at a time to see how your body reacts. This is experiential learning—it is the best way to get to the root of the problem and has the power to truly change your life!
What I have seen from leading and guiding hundreds of people through this process is that when people introduce gluten back into their diets they usually experience bloating, a sluggish feeling and fatigue right away. Since gluten takes a lot of energy and digestive power to break down, eliminating or reducing it from the system can improve digestion and save more energy for your system as a whole.