Is Gluten Secretly Making You Sick?
The short answer: Maybe. The long answer: It’s worth looking into.
In this article, I’m going to explain what you need to know and how to determine if gluten is a problem for you.
The Rise of Chronic Disease
Mainstream media and even some healthcare providers suggest that gluten-free diets are just a fad.
After all, most of our grandparents ate gluten their entire lives and they’re fine, right? Everyone is doing it, so it must be okay, right?
Chronic disease is on the rise – exponentially on the rise. And while genes are often blamed, there is way more to this story.
In fact, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men now have an autoimmune disease. Over half of adults are taking prescription drugs. And autism in our children has more than doubled in the past 20 years!
Scary to say the least.
Likely there are many things contributing to this exponential rise in chronic disease. But my concern is that gluten is contributing more than conventional medicine and the mainstream media are leading us to believe.
What’s the Deal With Gluten?
There are likely three main reasons why we are having more issues with gluten these days.
#1 Gluten is a complex protein – much more complex than most of the other foods we eat.
Gluten hasn’t been around very long in the grand scheme of things. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors have been around for several million years – primarily eating meat, fish, wild fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and starchy plants.
Gluten and grains have only been around since the Agricultural Revolution – about 10,000 years ago.
Let’s use the example of a football field. If the full length of a football field is the amount of time our ancestors have been roaming the earth, gluten has only been around for 1/2 of a yard!
Unfortunately, our genes cannot adapt that quickly to such a dramatic change in our diet.
#2 Antibiotic use and gut health.
Gut health just isn’t what it used to be. Since the 1970’s there has been a dramatic rise in the use of antibiotics on humans and livestock. Over the past several decades children have been exposed to more antibiotics than our grandparents ever were when they were kids.
And these antibiotics wreak havoc on our guts. It changes the gut flora – decreasing the number of good bacteria which then increases the number of bad bacteria. This can lead to leaky gut, changes in our immune function, changes in our mood, and a whole host of other issues. (1)
This combination of altered gut flora and gluten is one of the main reasons gluten issues may be on the rise.
#3 Traditional cultures prepared grains through soaking or sprouting.
Yes, grains have been in our diets for the past 10,000 years. However, bread was traditionally made using a sourdough preparation method. This slow process of fermentation helps break down the anti-nutrients in the grain making it easier for our guts to digest.
Many other cultures soak and sprout their grains before consumption, which is another way of making them easier to digest.
In our fast-paced busy society, people don’t have time for that anymore. Many of us are buying factory-made bread from a bag at the supermarket.
How Do You Know if You Are Gluten Intolerant?
Many people with gluten intolerance don’t exhibit typical symptoms such as diarrhea, bloating, gas, or abdominal pain. Some might feel fatigue, while others may gain weight or have skin or mood issues. (2)
The symptoms are endless and show up differently in each individual. The most common symptoms include:
- Brain fog
The lack of gut symptoms is one of the main reasons why gluten issues get missed in conventional medicine.
Also, there is also a whole host of diagnosed conditions that have been associated with gluten intolerance including:
- Autism spectrum disorders (3)
- Type 1 Diabetes (4)
- Depression (5)
- Schizophrenia (6)
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (7)
- Endometriosis (8)
- Insulin resistance
- Alzheimer’s disease
And there are more – so many more!
Unfortunately, this is not well known in our society or even in the medical community. And even when it is tested for, there are many shortfalls in the testing and many cases go undiagnosed.
In fact, for every one case of celiac disease (CD) that gets diagnosed 6.4 cases remain undiagnosed. (9)
And celiac disease is only part of the problem. There is something called non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) that is likely even more common and can do just as much harm as CD. (10)
This is where the body is reacting negatively to gluten but the reaction isn’t autoimmune or allergic in nature. However, when these people remove gluten from their diet, their symptoms improve. (11)
It is estimated that between 0.5 to 13% of Americans may have NSGS. (12) I believe that with our limited awareness of this subject, it may be even higher.
Testing for CD and NCGS.
Wheat is complex and contains several different classes of proteins. Conventional testing usually only tests for antibodies to alpha-gliadin and transglutaminase 2. But there are so many more we should be testing for. (13, 14, 15)
So even if you do have the typical symptoms and you get tested by your provider, you can’t rely on a negative result to rule out CD or NCGS. This is another reason why so many people go undiagnosed.
And the consequences of this are devastating. People suffer for years or even their entire lifetime with these horrible symptoms and conditions. They often need to take medications for these symptoms and suffer even more from the side effects of those medications.
When little did they know, that all they had to do was eliminate gluten from their diet.
We need a different approach.
What I Recommend
Although I don’t think everyone needs to be on a gluten-free diet, I do think most people should try an elimination diet for a minimum of 30 days to see how they feel.
Not only how they feel off of gluten, but how they feel when they reintroduce it. Especially anyone with any of the symptoms or diagnoses listed above.
In addition, I like to utilize a lab called Cyrex Laboratories. They offer a blood panel that screens for all of the wheat and gluten proteins and transglutaminase enzymes mentioned earlier. I use it in conjunction with the 30-day elimination diet and between the two can narrow in on who would benefit from eliminating gluten from their diets.
I realize that going gluten free is socially inconvenient. Fortunately, people are figuring out very quickly that this idea of going gluten-free is not just a fad. Because of this, there are so many more food items available making gluten-free eating much easier.
My hope is that over the next decade it will be even more of a norm to eat gluten-free. Instead of being a fad, it will just be a regular part of everyday life.