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What’s the Deal with Gluten, Glyphosate, and being Gluten-Free?

Right now, it seems to be trendy to be “gluten-free” — people are throwing around terms like “Celiac disease,” “glyphosate” and “roundup.” Why is the “gluten-free” industry growing, and do these health nuts have a point?

Let us begin with what exactly gluten is. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, “gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat.” The “big three” of gluten are wheat, barley, and rye. Wheat in particular is the precursor to many flours and ingredients found in processed foods. It can even be found in whey protein. Avoiding glutenous foods can be extremely challenging and it takes a special awareness to do so. Individuals who are genetically predisposed, so to speak, with a gluten allergy are said to have Celiac disease. Specifically, this is an autoimmune disease in which the consumption of gluten can damage the small intestine (the primary site of digestion in humans). Clearly, it is necessary for affected individuals to avoid products that contain gluten. However, these individuals are only about 1% of the United States population. What is on the rise is the number of people who are diagnosed with “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” (NCGS). As of 2017, NCGS is prevalent in about 6% of Americans. 

Now for the connection between gluten and glyphosate — glyphosate is the active ingredient in a product called Roundup. It was Invented by Monsanto, an American agriculture company, in 1974.Roundup was one of the first commercially available herbicides. As such, farmers began using it to kill weeds and anything else that was not conducive to the growth of their crops. Glyphosate is a non-selective herbicide, meaning that it will kill any plant in its way. This presented a problem because when used, it was killing the harvests. To prevent glyphosate use from causing the death of wheat crops, a genetically modified wheat crop began to be used instead. This switch allowed farmers to spray as much glyphosate as they wanted to without the risk of damaging the crops. Because of this switch to GMO wheat, in theory, glyphosate would no longer be able to damage wheat. However, it was discovered that spraying roundup on wheat just before harvest causes wheat grains to dry faster and more evenly. This process is known as “desiccation,” which in turn decreases the cost of harvest while simultaneously increasing yield. 

On the surface, this is fantastic. Farmers get more money, consumers get more food. It’s a win-win. Except that it is very much not. Foods treated with glyphosate have been found to increase inflammatory markers and severely disrupt the gut-flora. These two consequences result in the body eliciting an immune response which can include symptoms related to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), bloating, stomach aches, and cramping. Furthermore, because of the ability to spray excess glyphosate, so much glyphosate is being utilized that this systemic herbicide is ending up in drinking water. There are currently over 2,400 lawsuits against the Roundup LLC in regards to the link between glyphosate and cancer. Yet, this product is still being used in the United States everywhere from school gardens to industrialized farms despite a continually growing body of evidence of the toxicity of this chemical

This trend may be why the United States is seeing an increase in cases of NCGS, as the body is trying to protect itself through uncomfortable signs and symptoms to avoid products with glyphosate, gluten in particular. There is also been evidence that the GMO modified wheat is less bioavailable — meaning that the body has a harder time digesting it. Because of the growing body of evidence seen from the impacts of glyphosate and the mass produced wheat strains, even those who do not suffer from gluten intolerance are choosing to go gluten-free and avoid the potential complications.The story linking gluten intolerances, glyphosate, and the growing “gluten-free” market in America have undeniable links that will continue to grow stronger as more research emerges. 

Kayla is pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology through the honors college and following a pre-Physical Therapy track. She hopes to travel the world one day and she currently loves to cook and bake in addition to photography and reading.
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