Question: It seems every week I see a new gluten-free food at the grocery store and that another friend has gone gluten-free. Why?
Answer: A gluten-free diet has been attacked as a trendy food fad, and it’s easy to understand why. Gluten-free food is the fastest growing segment of the natural foods market.
Going gluten-free improves health
But it’s a fad because it works. A gluten-free diet alleviates or remedies chronic joint pain, skin problems, depression, anxiety, memory loss, gut pain, digestive issues, childhood behavioral issues, autism spectrum disorders, and more. Genetics determine how gluten affects a person.
Gluten intolerance more common
New research has also shown the prevalence of gluten intolerance has increased, and that the risk of mortality increases fourfold for those with a gluten intolerance who eat gluten.
Gluten increases leaky gut and leaky brain
Researchers have found that gluten can cause “leaky gut” and “leaky brain” in those who aren’t gluten intolerant. It does this by increases the production of zonulin, a substance in the body that regulates how tight or porous the lining of the gut and brain are. This allows harmful substances into the bloodstream and the brain, leading to chronic inflammation and tissue damage.
Gluten, gut inflammation, and mortality
A 2009 Swedish study found even mild gut inflammation from gluten sensitivity increases mortality risk significantly. A 2010 article in Lancet Neurology demonstrated that gluten is a major factor in many neurological disorders, including cerebellar disorders, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, dementia, and peripheral neuropathy.
Important to follow the diet strictly
It’s easier than ever these days to adapt a gluten-free diet, but is important to follow it strictly. Just one exposure to gluten can cause an immune reaction for up to six months or more.
Importance of proper testing
Not all tests for gluten intolerance are equal. Traditional testing that is done in a medical setting is very narrow in scope. It is based on research that is many decades old. Newer research shows that there are many facets of wheat to which the immune system can react. The most comprehensive testing available is through Cyrex Labs (their Array 3 test).
Often people realize they have a gluten sensitivity either because they have been tested and the test shows a gluten sensitivity or because they simply feel better by going gluten free. However, many times I have had patients tell me that they tried going gluten free but saw no improvements. Well, let me share a few things about gluten. First, as mentioned above, the immune system can react to gluten for six months or more after the last exposure to gluten. So, if someone goes gluten free for two or three months and then quits because they saw no change, perhaps their immune system was still reacting to the gluten they ate two to three months ago. In addition, there are foods that can cross react with gluten (the immune system thinks it’s gluten). So, if you go gluten free and your immune system is still reacting to foods it thinks is gluten then you may not see benefits of going gluten free. Cyrex Labs also tests for this as well (their Array 4 test). For more detailed information on this topic, see my blog posts Are You Sure You Can Eat Wheat? Gluten Tests Often Wrong and When A Gluten-Free Diet Is Not Enough.
For a thorough evaluation to see if you are gluten sensitive or sensitive to gluten cross reactive foods, please contact my office at 818-704-5685.