To Your Health
September, 2009 (Vol. 03, Issue 09)
The Gluten Effect
How Gluten Sensitivity Can Disrupt Your Hormones and Your Life
By Dr. Vikki Petersen
When we talk about the gluten effect
, we're basically talking about how gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye and barley
, can have far-reaching negative effects upon your health. If you're suffering from obesity to fatigue, depression to headaches, arthritis to digestive problems, gluten sensitivity may very well be at the root of your symptoms. Gluten can also affect your hormonal health by stressing the adrenal glands
, causing adrenal fatigue and a number of hormone-related health problems.
The Adrenal Glands: Hormone Central
The adrenal glands sit above your kidneys and release hormones into your bloodstream, and likewise respond to feedback from other hormones and chemicals in your body. Their main role is repair and anti-aging. When the adrenal glands become exhausted from chronic stress, they cannot keep up with all the demands made upon them and catabolism (think "cannibalism") or a breakdown of systems occurs. This catabolism results in your body's systems becoming incapable of repairing themselves; as a result, their function slowly begins to deteriorate. This leads to fatigue, depression, loss of libido and hormonal imbalance symptoms such as PMS and hot flashes, to name a few.
Gluten sensitivity puts direct stress on your adrenal glands. This stress comes from the inflammatory response created in a gluten-sensitive person's digestive tract. When gluten creates an inflammatory reaction, it is the balancing efforts of the hormonal pathways that "cool off" the stress and create an anti-inflammatory response. If this happened only occasionally, it wouldn't upset the adrenals' ability to function optimally. But in patients with gluten sensitivity (40 percent of the population, by current estimates) this inflammation occurs every time they eat any gluten, which can be several times per day.
So, the adrenals are getting stressed by all the inflammation gluten is creating in the intestines. When this stress becomes chronic due to an individual continuing to consume gluten in their diet, many symptoms are created due to a phenomenon called "adrenal exhaustion."
Adrenal Exhaustion Caused by Gluten
|Common Symptoms of Adrenal Exhaustion |
Caused by Gluten Sensitivity
Interruptions in sleep
Difficulty waking in morning
Joint and muscle aches
Weight gain resistant to diet or exercise
Low blood sugar
PMS/ menstrual abnormalities
Under normal conditions, the adrenals make a hormone called pregnenolone
(think of it as the "mother hormone"). Pregnenolone is the basic building block of many of the hormones the adrenal glands make, including the sex hormones. These hormones - DHEA, estrogen, testosterone and progesterone - need to be maintained in proper balance to prevent such conditions as PMS, anxiety and infertility.
When chronically stressed, something has to give; the adrenal glands cannot keep up with all their duties. In a very interesting process known as "pregnenolone steal," the adrenal glands literally "steal" pregnenolone to make the basic hormone the adrenal gland utilizes for energy production, leaving sex hormone production lacking. This "borrowing from Peter to pay Paul" phenomenon results in a host of symptoms associated with hormonal imbalance.
PMS and menopausal symptoms are associated with gluten sensitivity and adrenal exhaustion in this manner. Recall that the adrenal gland produces reproductive hormones, and that pregnenolone serves as the building block for other hormones. Under normal conditions, ample pregnenolone exists for conversion to those hormones, but when stressed, pregnenolone is diverted instead.