Gluten: Beyond the Bread

When you hear the word gluten, you may immediately think of a chewy bagel, a slice of pizza, or a warm baguette. If you have an intolerance to gluten, you may also think of bloating, abdominal pain, and other life-disrupting symptoms.

Gluten is a type of protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. It acts as a “glue” for bread and baked goods and is responsible for much of the chewy texture and structure that many love in croissants, pizza crusts, and soft pretzels. Gluten can also be found as an additive in a surprising range of foods, including french fries, cheese, soy sauce, and lunch meats.

Over the past few decades, gluten-free diets have become increasingly popular. While marketing efforts seem to have influenced this rise in popularity, research indicates that up to 10% of the US population may have a gluten-related condition. According to a journal in Gastroenterology & Hepatology, these conditions may cause symptoms like bloating, abdominal discomfort and pain, altered bowel habits, flatulence, fatigue, and headaches.

As you may have suspected, research is indicating that the oral and gut microbiome may play important roles in how our bodies respond to gluten.

The process of breaking down gluten actually starts in your mouth. Oral microbes that are particularly good at digesting gluten include Rothia mucilaginosa, Streptococcus, Actinomyces odontolyticus, Neisseria mucosa, and Capnocytophaga sputigena.

As gluten moves toward the gut, the composition of a person’s gut microbiome can have a strong influence on how well these gluten proteins are broken down. Certain strains of Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, Clostridium, and Bifidobacterium consume gluten as food and make its nutrients usable to our bodies.

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