Take the Gluten Challenge

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This could literally change your life forever


I will be the first to say that these diet topics get so confusing and contradicting, that it’s understandable why most people just ignore them and eat what they want. One expert says that gluten is a poison, and the next one says it’s a safe staple of our diet. Just this morning, an article hit the Wall Street Journal that was titled “This Story Is Gluten-Free” which went on to say that organic food is probably not any better than conventionally grown and GMO foods are completely safe.  His closing line was “Perhaps on July 4th we should all resolve to enjoy factory-raised grilled meats and be grateful for what’s left of the freedom to make our own decisions.” This article was written by a well educated guy who has been involved with business and finance his whole career, and published by a highly respected paper.


I’m not here to tell you that gluten is a poison or to tell you that you should never eat bread again, but I am here to share with you what’s currently known about gluten and why it’s important we don’t just give gluten a gold star because of tradition. I won’t go into detail in this short article, but hopefully it will be enough food for thought to get you to take the challenge!


Disclaimer: The content contained article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice. If you’re thinking about getting tested for celiac disease, then by all means, get tested before starting a gluten challenge. The reason is that one arm of a celiac test is dependent on the recent exposure to gluten. If that’s not the case, please clear it with your doctor and join us on a gluten-free month.


Gluten has been around forever, right?

Nope, humans have been around for roughly 2.5 million years and gluten came on the scene only about 10,000 years ago. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle required people to move with the animals and seasonal vegetation.  When folks started to settle in one place, they began to domesticate animals and crops. Knowingly or not, these first farmers produced new varieties of plants and eventually gluten was born.


Ancient grains contained a fraction of the gluten compared to the dwarf wheat we’ve been eating since the 1960’s. Wheat, barley, and rye are members of the grass family, and are the only grains that contain gluten.


All the talk is about gluten, but the real culprit is actually a component of gluten… a protein called gliadin.


100% of us are not able to breakdown gliadin

Proteins are made up of amino acids. During normal digestion, enzymes recognize amino acid sequences and break off chunks that are eventually reduced to individual amino acids and passed through the walls of our intestines to be used by the body.


Our bodies do not have the enzymes to completely breakdown gliadin, so we are left with these undigested segments that are tolerated at best.


80% of us produce zonulin… what the heck is zonulin?

Now this is pretty cool! A protein called haptoglobin 1 evolved in animals about 450 million years ago, after fish split from the rest of the animal kingdom… therefore fish do not make haptoglobin 1. Much more recently, just a mere 2 million years ago or 500,000 years after we split from chimpanzees, humans developed a gene to make haptoglobin 2 and it’s precursor zonulin. This means that humans are the only animals that produce zonulin.


What the heck is zonulin?

I’m glad you asked. Our intestinal lining is just one cell layer thick. Just one cell layer stands between us and the outside world! Not long ago scientists conceptualized that cell layer like a big tile floor, where the cells were the tiles and the space between them was the grout. They believed that everything passed through the tiles (cells) and the grout was completely sealed. They had a problem though… there were proteins and other macromolecules getting into the body that were simply far too big to pass through the cell.


In reality, the space between the cells is not sealed, but rather locked together… and zonulin is the key.


Two of the undigested gliadin segments that we talked about above cause the cells to release zonulin and open the space between the cells. This will increase intestinal permeability, which is a fancy way of saying it lets more unwanted stuff into our bodies… and NOT just those undigested gliadin segments.


This can cause inflammation, develop into leaky gut, or turn into new food sensitivities, just to name a few.


Note: There actually is an evolutionary advantage to having zonulin. Certain bacteria will trigger zonulin to open the space between the cells, allowing the body to release large quantities of water into the intestine in an effort to flush the dangerous bacteria from the body… think cholera.


6-15% of us are sensitive to gliadin

I know that’s a wide ranging figure, but what can i say… who am I to disagree with disagreeing experts? When zonulin lets those undigested segments of gliadin in, our bodies have to act. On a positive note, most of us handle it very well. However, for 6-15% of us, our innate immune system sees it as a danger, overreacts, and causes inflammation.


The symptoms can range from subtle to severe, show-up hours or days after eating the offending food, and display almost anywhere in the body… this can make it almost impossible to link back to the offending food!


Note: Even if you are not sensitive to gliadin, you may be sensitive to other foods (like kale or beef) as a result of undigested food particles entering the body when gliadin asked zonulin to open the door.


1% of us have celiac disease

Celiac is a lifelong autoimmune disease caused by an intolerance to gliadin. Although the symptoms of gluten sensitivity and celiac disease can be similar, the conditions are very different. Celiac disease:

  • Involves both the innate and adaptive immune systems.
  • Has a genetic component (HLA-DQ2 and HLA-DQ8). While people that have at least one of these genes may never develop celiac disease, it’s very unlikely you will develop celiac without one… so this is primarily used to rule out celiac disease.
  • Releases a ton of zonulin and leaves the space between the cells open for far longer than someone without the disease.
  • Destroys the intestinal villi which results in malabsorption of nutrients.
  • Is diagnosed in less than 20% of the people who currently have it in the US, Europe, and Australia.
  • Can only currently be treated with a strict gluten (gliadin) free diet.


Celiac disease is an interesting beast that is far from being completely understood.

  • It is becoming more common (not just more diagnosed). Over the last 35 years, the prevalence of celiac disease has doubled every 15 years. This falls in-line with other autoimmune diseases.
  • Just because you are genetically predisposed to celiac, doesn’t mean you will develop it.
  • Someone predisposed to celiac can eat wheat all of their life and suddenly develop celiac disease at age 70 or 80.


Some elements of celiac disease are clear… it’s clear that it has a genetic component, that it’s triggered by gliadin, and that it involves zonulin, the innate immune system, and the adaptive immune system. What’s not clear is why someone can tolerate gliadin for years or even decades and then develop celiac disease… or why it’s prevalence is on the rise.



While scientist may have a long way to go, their hard work has certainly has given us more than enough to raise an eyebrow.

  • Gluten has not been around forever
  • None of us our equipped to digest gliadin, but many of us tolerate it
  • Most of us produce zonulin and let unwanted stuff into our bodies after we eat gliadin
  • Some of us are sensitive to gluten or other foods as an indirect result of eating gluten, but are not likely to know it because of the vast variety of symptoms and their delayed onset.
  • About 1% of us have celiac disease, but less than 0.2% of us know it.


The Challenge… Our Challenge !!!!

From July 1st to July 31st, NO GLUTEN…. none. Then simply reintroduce gluten and see how you feel.


I know this won’t be a walk in the park, but we’re in this together!


Have you had any issues with gluten? Have you ever done a food challenge? Please share in the comments!


Co-Founder of NutritionGeeks, retired USAPL drug-free powerlifter, volunteer youth wrestling coach, father of 3 amazing boys and interested in all things health

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