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Gluten and Men’s Health: Part 1 – What is Gluten?

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CS Lewis“There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips.” – C.S. Lewis, 1898-1963, Mere Christianity

In the recent years there seems to have been a strong uptick in a number of health issues related to food allergies. As a kid I rarely heard about anyone with peanut allergies but knew it was a real thing and could be very serious. Now, allergies or intolerances with all sorts of foods are becoming more and more common. Corn, wheat, dairy, soy, potatoes, nuts, & seafood are all on the list as well as various food colorings and preservatives. The spectrum of food related autoimmune issues just keeps getting wider. I think the natural response by most men is to dismiss this. After all, when we were kids we ate all of this stuff and no one had any issues, right? Who knows, maybe it’s just a fad, or a sales gimmick by the tree hugging hippies to promote their over-priced organics, right?

Rather than addressing all of the food related allergens\intolerances I’ll stick with the big one you have probably heard about: gluten. This is important to us men because gluten can be a real issue for many of us and the problems it causes directly relates to testosterone, something you gotta have to be manly.

There is going to be a lot of information to absorb in this article series, but it’s all important stuff. In order to keep you interested I’ll go ahead and give you a spoiler as to the benefits of going Gluten-Free if gluten is indeed an issue for you:

  • Better digestion (you’ll be more regular)
  • Better sleep
  • Heightened mental sharpness
  • Increased muscle growth
  • Quicker healing after workouts
  • Increased energy (many times over)

Gluten: What the heck is it?

Gluten is a protein found naturally in wheat, barley, rye, and spelt. It’s the wonderful thing that gives elasticity to dough. When making things like a pizza crust, some recipes will call for flours with higher gluten content to get that stretchiness and chewiness. Gluten isn’t a new thing, but the large amount of gluten in our modern flours is. Severe crossbreeding\hybridization and mutagenesis (forcing mutations through radiation or other means) has drastically changed the grains we eat today. Add in the fact that we consume far more wheat-based products than ever before and you can see why this is only now becoming a notable issue.

What is a Gluten Allergy?

This is where things get a little tricky. People often use the term allergy and intolerance interchangeably, and though there is a difference, even in a strictly medical manner the lines are blurred because they both cause an immune response. It’s easier to think of it in terms of those with Celiac Disease (serious) and those with general gluten issues and just call it Gluten Sensitive. Regardless of severity, the solution for both is the same, avoiding gluten. However, this is more serious for the Celiac.

Celiac Disease

You can read more about the specifics on Celiac here. In short, people with Celiac have a genetic predisposition to gluten which causes intestinal discomfort, gas, and damage of the intestinal lining. Ultimately this can result in a permeability of the intestines, allowing microscopic proteins to enter the bloodstream, malabsorption leading to vitamin deficiencies, and even intestinal cancer. In other words, this isn’t a good thing to have. However, a strict gluten-free diet generally leads to a reversal of these issues and a happy life. Currently an intestinal biopsy is needed to determine whether you have Celiac Disease.

Gluten Intolerant

Most people fall into this category. It simply means that something about gluten bothers your immune system which can lead to all kinds of odd symptoms. It may be the amount you are taking in or you need to avoid it all together. Once again, the only fix here is to avoid it by adhering to a gluten-free diet.

My Experience with Gluten

I have been gluten-free (gf) for well over a year now. Looking back, I should have gone GF a long time ago, but I was stubborn and liked bread ;-). That may sound like a short period of time, but my actual experience with gluten and other food issues is far greater. Both of my sons and wife had some pretty stubborn food issues for 10+ years. All of the above mentioned allergens were things that they couldn’t eat. As of now, thanks be to God, they are able to eat everything except gluten. In fact, we all may be able to eat it, but we don’t miss it and frankly I don’t trust it.

A few years ago I noticed I had lost a lot of energy. I was hitting the gym pretty regularly, running and all of that stuff, and I had even lost a good deal of weight, though, I couldn’t really put on muscle and keep it on. However, I just felt more and more tired before the day was done. I had my testosterone levels checked a few years prior and they were pretty low, around 350-400, which is great if you are 90, and not so great if you’re in your 30s. I was doing a lot of the things that should have boosted testosterone but it just didn’t seem to help.

Summer, my wife, kept telling me to go gluten-free. Keep in mind that my family had been on a severely restricted diet for the last decade. I knew all about this gluten stuff but didn’t think it applied to me. Reluctantly, I saw a doctor who did a genetic test for gluten sensitivity. The result? I had 2 out of 3 genes for gluten sensitivity. I thought, “Ok, I don’t know if that means I have an issue or I just barely made it by!?”. I decided it was all good for me, maybe I just needed to cut back a little. I even tried a half-hearted gluten-free diet as well. Unfortunately, the symptoms worsened for a year or more before I saw another doctor and had another test. This time it was a blood test and the results were more conclusive. On a scale of 0-400 I was 430. Apparently you aren’t supposed to be anywhere near 400 but I certainly wasn’t a Celiac. With the results of this test I decided to go GF for real. Because I had the knowledge from raising a GF family I didn’t have any problems figuring out what I could or couldn’t eat. For me, it was an issue of will power. Frankly, this is the issue for any diet.

It took about 6 weeks after going gluten-free to feel the difference and after a few months I really began to feel better. What I have experienced so far seems to match up with what others have said as well: I think more clearly, my weight is more stable, I don’t get into those funky moods at the end of the day, I’m friskier at night (if you know what I mean), I have more passion and drive and the energy to carry through, and other benefits that result in lowering inflammation. Oh, and my digestion is so much better. I used to get really sluggish after eating red meat. Now, I can churn through that stuff. Pass the A-1 please! (Yes, A-1 is gluten-free!)

Since going GF I have had a few setbacks from either accidental or purposeful gluten ingestion. These only served to confirm that gluten was an issue for me. I felt like garbage for the next few days. My energy level, digestion, and mood were really affected.

Stay Tuned

If the above sounds like something you have experienced, stay tuned. In the next parts I’ll discuss what may have caused wheat to be bad for us, how to determine if you are gluten sensitive, how to avoid it and find alternative grains, and finally, an easy and delicious gluten-free bread recipe.

Articles in this series:

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