Gluten and Casein Wreck Havoc on Digestion
By Decker Weiss, ND
Have you ever eaten a pasta dinner and then felt really sick afterwards? Or maybe a dish of ice cream had a similar effect? It could be that you, like many people, have trouble digesting gluten or casein. While cases of gluten or casein intolerance are pretty rare, many of us still feel lousy after eating bread, pasta, or ice cream, or after drinking milk. That's because these proteins are just plain hard to digest.
So what are gluten and casein? Gluten is a protein found in grass-related grains, such as wheat, barley, and rye. Casein is the main protein of dairy products, and found in milk, yogurt, and ice cream. In our country, most breads, pastas, and cereals are made from high-gluten grains. Even though most of them are "enriched" with vitamins or minerals, we're not getting those nutrients. Because of the difficulty in breaking down gluten, we're mostly absorbing the sugar and fats—not the protein and the nutrients. That's why those who eat a lot of pasta can really pack on the pounds, and it's what I'm seeing in my practice (and in my own diet!).
In Europe, most of the grains have less gluten. In Italy, for example, most people are slim even though they eat a lot of pasta and breads. But because European pasta and breads contain less gluten, they provide a more balanced intake of nutrients and people don't gain excessive weight enjoying their favorite foods. And believe me, they enjoy them! Plus, Italians don't become bloated and gassy from the pasta. And when I'm in Italy, neither do I. This is because the pasta served there is usually fresh, thus made with a softer flour, which contains less gluten and provides silkier texture. Dried pasta has a very high gluten content from processing which gives it more "bite."
Some researchers speculate that trouble digesting gluten comes from our evolutionary development. Until about 10,000 years ago, people didn't eat a lot of grain. By evolutionary standards, that's a very short time. The theory is that some of us have not yet fully developed the ability to digest gluten. In fact, in countries where grains have been consumed for a longer period, gluten sensitivities are less common. That might be another reason why Italians can stay thin while eating a lot of breads and pasta.
There are others who give up gluten because they have Celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that requires a life-time elimination of gluten from the diet in order to heal damage done to the small intestine. For these people, a glutenfree diet is the only option.
Fortunately, for the rest of us, whether you choose to totally stay away from gluten, casein, or just want to enjoy things like pasta or ice cream a little more comfortably, there is help. First, take a plant enzyme product formulated to aid in the digestion of gluten and casein. Dipeptidyl Peptidase IV (DPP IV), a type of protease, has been shown to break down the proteins in gluten and casein. A good enzyme product won't just help with gluten and casein digestion, it will include enzymes that assist in the digestion of fats, carbohydrates, sugars, and other proteins. An enzyme product that contains a variety of proteases (for digesting proteins), amylase, cellulase, phytase, lactase, sucrase, (carbohydrates), and lipase (fats) is most beneficial. Keep in mind that enzymes cannot replace a diet free of gluten and casein for those with Celiac disease (although they may help with hidden gluten and casein).
When poorly digested proteins are disturbing your digestive system, a multistrain probiotic can also be of benefit. Colonies of bacteria in the intestine are called microflora. While a normal microflora is associated with good health, changes in intestinal health are associated with weakened immune function, which can leave your body vulnerable to yeast infections and even cancer. In fact, studies have shown that those who have trouble digesting gluten have a poor ratio of good to bad microflora in the digestive tract. Adding a broad-spectrum probiotic helps restore balance and improve digestion. Find a probiotic that says its bacteria are guaranteed to be alive in the numbers stated on the label until the date printed on the package. Its bacteria should also be encapsulated in a coating that will protect them from stomach acid so that they reach your intestines alive and ready to go to work.
Dealing with gluten or casein can be challenging, but it can be done. To make it a bit easier, try these enzymes and probiotics, for even a week. As good as short-term results are … long-term results are even better.