Gluten has certainly got itself quite the negative reputation lately hasn’t it? Everyone seems to be trying to avoid it these days, but for good reason. Gluten can definitely do a number on your system, whether you have Celiac Disease or not. But let’s dive into the issue a bit further and look at the link between gluten and Multiple Sclerosis, shall we?
What is Gluten?
First, let’s define gluten and talk about what it is, and where it can be found (you may be surprised!). Gluten (literally the Latin word for ‘glue’) is a general term for a mix of proteins that are found in wheat and other grains (barley, rye, oat, spelt etc.) It helps dough rise, gives dough elasticity and a chewy texture (why early forms of gluten free everything were flat and felt like cardboard). Oddly enough, North American wheat has a higher gluten content than European countries.
Gluten can hide out in many odd places. Also, if something is labeled ‘Wheat Free’ that DOES NOT necessarily mean it is GLUTEN FREE. The product may contain another grain derivative, like spelt, so beware and learn to read labels!
Due to new laws being enacted in 2014, if something is labeled ‘Gluten Free’ it has to adhere to strict guidelines set forth by the FDA that is does not contain more that 20 parts gluten per million. Where are some odd places for gluten to hide you might ask? Soy sauce, hot dogs, gravy, blue cheese, french fries, pickles and hot chocolate (?!). They key to finding hidden gluten is to research all it’s hidden names (any form of grain) and become proficient at reading labels, a skill that will come with time.
Gluten and MS
There are several ways gluten can be linked with MS. First, when gluten is consumed, it creates something in our gut called ‘leaky gut’. “Leaky gut” is and isn’t exactly what it sounds like. It isn’t huge holes in our intestines where big pieces of food leak out, but it is a condition where the integrity of the intestines is compromised and small microbes and toxins leak out into the rest of our body and into our blood stream. This condition of Leaky Gut contributes to inflammation, and is why EVERYONE with an autoimmune condition should avoid gluten, in my opinion.
Another way that gluten is linked to MS is that there seems to be a higher prevalence of gluten sensitives and Celiac disease within the MS community. Several studies have shown that people with MS and their relatives have a higher chance of having Celiac or a sensitivity to gluten. Often times when individuals with MS have eliminated gluten from their diet for a period of time, they have experienced an improvement in their symptoms. Considering that gluten contributes to inflammation in the body and MS is impacted by inflammation in the body, it only makes sense that eliminating a source of inflammation can improve symptoms.
Finding hidden Gluten
How on earth do you find all the hidden gluten in the world? I know, it’s hard for me too. Just being aware of where it can hide out is a great start. I listed a few spots above, but other places it can hide out is in deli meat, restaurant foods, hair care, body care, vitamins and supplements just for a few more ideas. The last 4 on this list might give you a shock if this is a new idea for you. It did for me when I was first looking into it. I NEVER thought my lotions or vitamins would have gluten in them! However, back in the day, they most likely did. Thankfully I started looking at labels only a few years ago, and everything is pretty well labeled now. But that still means we have to look! All vitamins and supplements should be labeled with what it DOES have in it and what it DOESN’T. Same goes for hair/body care.
As for eating out, please be careful. I’ve been so diligent, but my order always seems to get messed up. Don’t be afraid to ask up front about gluten free dishes and then for clarification when they bring out your dinner. If you think something isn’t right, it probably isn’t. It’s YOUR dinner and YOUR experience, not theirs.
Many people who have MS have found going gluten free to be beneficial. They have reported improvement in gastrointestinal symptoms and MS symptoms as well. There are lab tests that show gluten sensitivities, but an elimination diet is the only true method of finding out 100% whether it (or anything else) bothers your system. Considering the research has found a link between gluten sensitivity and MS, why not try giving a gluten free diet a try for a while and see how it makes you feel? It doesn’t have to be forever, and if it works, wouldn’t that be a bonus?
If you like what you’re reading, consider joining the LissMS Community here! I share further insights and knowledge regularly!
Also, if you’re interested in trying out a gluten free lifestyle but don’t know where to start, let me know! I can help 😉