People go gluten free for a variety of reasons, and by far the most important reason to give up gluten is if your body has developed an auto-immune disease triggered by gluten intake.
First, let’s clarify what gluten is. Gluten is a protein found in all products made from wheat, rye and barley. Wheat flour is by far the most prevalent source of gluten and is added to the majority of processed foods.
Second, let’s clarify what an auto-immune disease is. An auto-immune disease means your body produces antibodies that attack and damage your own tissues because your defense system thinks they are intruders. Many auto-immune diseases can be disabling and deadly, including multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease, both of which may be triggered by eating gluten in a gluten sensitive person.
Gluten sensitivity is poorly understood and vastly more serious than an ordinary food intolerance. Let’s use lactose intolerance– the most common of the food intolerances— as a comparison.
Lactase is the enzyme you need to digest milk sugar (lactose), and when you don’t have lactase, consuming milk, ice cream, and other dairy products makes you gassy and bloated. For some people it can also result in painful abdominal cramps. But other than some annoying symptoms, eating dairy doesn’t kill you. Gluten, however, is a different story.
As noted, gluten is a protein that is found in wheat, rye, and barley. Every time you eat one of these three grains, you are consuming gluten. If you are gluten sensitive (which is about 20% of the US population), your immune system “sees” the gluten protein and treats it like a foreign invader, making antibodies that attack the gluten foreigner. By itself, this wouldn’t be such a bad thing—except that many of these antibodies get confused and attack not just the gluten, but your body’s own tissues. These antibodies can wreak havoc on your gut lining, joints, thyroid, sinuses, and even your brain.
When you have gluten sensitivity, you essentially have a form of an auto-immune disease. Eat gluten even once, and it has the potential to cause your immune system to attack your tissues for the next 20-30 days. You may only eat gluten once every two weeks, yet you may have symptoms all the time, because the antibody attack is relentless.
The symptoms of gluten sensitivity include:
- Gastrointestinal issues: bloating, gassy, abdominal pain
- Brain fog, anxiety, or depression
- Achy joints
- Sinus congestion
- Weight gain and resistant weight loss (you do everything right but still can’t lose weight)
- Skin rashes like eczema and psoriasis
You could have all of these symptoms, or only 1-2. At the Masley Optimal Health Center, anyone with chronic, unexplained symptoms noted above deserves laboratory testing, or a gluten- free elimination diet trial for a minimal of 3-4 weeks. The biggest challenge is many people try to follow a gluten free diet and get cross contaminated and fail to really go gluten free—I had to try going gluten free three times before I succeeded for at least one month as I kept making mistakes and had to start all over. We now provide counseling for people following a gluten free diet, but it takes extensive education to do this properly.
The second challenge is that many doctors order an outdated blood test for gluten sensitivity, namely TTG antibody (tissue transglutaminase antibody), which commonly misses people with known gluten sensitivity. If the test is positive, you have gluten sensitivity; the problem is that many people have this issue and the test is negative. Not only can you react to gluten protein, but your body breaks gluten down into many other smaller protein particles, and you can react to these gluten metabolites too. In our clinic, we use a laboratory called Cyrex Laboratories that is able to test for multiple gluten metabolites and antibodies, so it’s important to make sure you get the right test. The problem is of course expense, and typically this isn’t covered by medical insurance.
I usually give my patients with ongoing symptoms, the following choice: (1) give up gluten totally for one month and see if you feel better or (2) take the Cyrex test (I don’t bother with the TTG test noted above) which is more definitive. The problem is that it isn’t that easy to go gluten free. Have one shot of soy sauce (it has gluten in it) or eat in a restaurant where wheat flour was on the counter where your dish was prepared and you have been contaminated, and have to start over. Many people think they went gluten free, but never made it. Many products that don’t have gluten ingredients are contaminated with gluten protein. So unless you are ultra-careful, testing is the way to go to confirm this diagnosis.
If you are gluten sensitive and you eat gluten products, then it’s highly likely that your immune system is attacking your own tissues. If you have celiac disease, your immune system is attacking your gut and you damage your small intestine, then that is called celiac disease. Many people have the mistaken idea that if they have an intestinal biopsy and they don’t have celiac disease, then they can eat gluten—sorry, not really. If antibodies attack your brain, you may get multiple sclerosis (your brain is damaged and looks like Swiss cheese with holes in it -scattered brain plaques). Gluten sensitivity may lead to lymphoma (cancer), thyroid problems, and it can make you feel groggy, achy—awful. People who are gluten sensitive and keep eating gluten are very inflamed, which slows their metabolism and promotes weight gain
The bottom line is that gluten sensitivity is a potentially life threatening auto-immune disease. Don’t confuse it with something fairly annoying like lactose intolerance.
The results from people who are gluten sensitive and go gluten free are really amazing. Consider these results from my own patients:
- A man covered in a body wide eczema rash had his skin totally clear when he went gluten free.
- A woman who couldn’t lose weight with exercise and dieting lost 50 pounds in 6 months (and has kept it off) when she went gluten free.
- A woman with years of gastrointestinal pain and bloating, often forcing her to miss work and her children’s sporting events felt totally normal after giving up gluten.
- A man with bad joint pain, who also had arthritis, was considering a joint replacement, but didn’t notice any joint pain after giving up gluten.
So if you or a loved one suffer from the symptoms related to gluten sensitivity, I strongly encourage you to follow a real gluten free trial, or to have definitive testing for gluten sensitivity.
In our next blog, if you are gluten sensitive and try to avoid gluten, I’ll share a new product that helps you prevent contamination when eating in restaurants or eating out with friends.
IN THE NEWS
Don’t miss out! Sign up for the FREE Healthy Heart Summit July 13-20. Your chance to learn from 30 national experts on heart health.
The Healthy Heart Summit is your opportunity to:
- Get trim and fit for good.
- Gain access to world-renowned doctors, nutritionists, and health experts.
- Prevent and reverse heart disease.
- Improve your circulation, energy and romantic function at the same time.
- Identify the medical and nutritional testing that is best for you.
- Find out which practical tips will make a difference in your quality of life.
[images style=”5″ image=”https%3A%2F%2Fdrmasley.com%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2015%2F06%2FHeart_Banner_728x90_Attend3.jpg” width=”728″ link_url=”https%3A%2F%2Fez233.isrefer.com%2Fgo%2Fsummitreg%2FSMASLEY%2F%20″ new_window=”Y” align=”left” top_margin=”0″ full_width=”Y”]
Don’t miss out. Sign up now!
To your Health,
Steven Masley, MD