If you suffer with chronic food allergies and sensitivities, gut issues, autoimmune symptoms, or even things like mood swings, depression or neurological issues, then consuming wheat/gluten better be on your radar as a possible suspect contributing to your symptoms and poor health.
While I don’t think that wheat/gluten necessarily needs to be avoided 100 percent of the time by everyone, I do think that everyone should do their due diligence and carefully assess whether wheat/gluten consumption is safe for them. I especially encourage those with a history of gut health issues or autoimmune conditions to be extra vigilant when it comes to dietary gluten.
Issues related to dietary gluten can hide in plain sight—coming back and biting you in the butt years later when you least expect (or desire) it.
So if you or someone you care about are chronically ill or just keep circling the drain with just what the heck is going on in your body, maybe it is about time to consider the fact that dietary factors (in particular wheat/gluten), something well within your ability to control, could be the key to improving and sustaining healthy outcomes.
Gluten Disease Outlook
For the estimated 1% of people worldwide with celiac disease and the 1:10 who suffer with gluten intolerance of some kind, consuming even trace amounts of gluten can cause adverse reactions, including nutrient malabsorption, brain fog, skin issues, damage to the intestinal lining and a cascade of inflammatory issues.
And these symptoms I just mentioned are so high level and only represent the tip of the iceberg when it comes to adverse affects stemming from dietary gluten in those where it is a problem.
Research done at Harvard University conducted by one of the top experts on gluten and celiac disease, Dr. Alessio Fasano, points to between 5%-10% of all people may suffer from a gluten sensitivity of some form, meaning some 20-40 million people in the United States alone could have the condition.1 Those estimates are probably on the low side because gluten-related diseases can be complex and impact non-gut systems, so getting a proper diagnosis from a doctor can be challenging (and frankly nearly impossible for the average person engaged in the traditional healthcare model). This is why other researchers feel the percentage of people suffering with gluten-related afflictions in under reported and could be upwards of 50%.
Let’s put those numbers into perspective…
Celiac Disease, Autoimmunity, and So Much More
At first most researchers and specialists were convinced that the only thing we really needed to pay attention to with dietary gluten was celiac disease. The reason for concern was obviously the autoimmune reaction and other symptoms linked to the disease.
But celiac disease and now what we call non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) are conditions that like the little gremlins they are, get into our guts and immune systems causing a biological/physiological chain reaction. These gluten-related conditions can often time present themselves outside of the gut and most commonly symptoms ping-pong—so what starts out as a stomachache or bloating can turn into joint pain, cognitive and mood disorders, thyroid dysfunction like Hashimotos, anemia, skin problems and more.
Obviously the elephant in the room is: how can you diagnose something that’s a clinical chameleon? Honestly speaking, this is the problem especially given the amount of ignorance both in doctors and patients around the effects of dietary gluten and conditions like intestinal permeability.
Unfortunately it’s just a fact that many people with wheat/gluten issues are misdiagnosed year after year. They are repeatedly told that there is nothing wrong with them or they are given harsh medications that never relieve symptoms. This disappointing cycle happens more often than not and typically runs its course over a 7-10 year period (if they are lucky!). Sadly after a decade or so has gone by with no relief of symptoms (truth be told they probably feel worse than they did years back), often irreversible damage has occurred to vital organs and body systems.
Even though a condition like celiac disease is most likely not at the top of the list of diagnoses issued by most doctors (they don’t know what they don’t know and it is one heck of a complicated condition), does not mean that you should just blatantly rule it or its cousin, NGGS, out entirely. Some times the answers to our health issues are really much more simple… like something as straightforward as dietary gluten.
The best thing you can do for your health is to think outside of the box and that means embracing the path less traveled by many and trying simple approaches like changing up your diet and improving lifestyle factors.
Gluten: The Gateway to a Leaky Gut & More
According to recent research everyone gets what we call “transient” intestinal permeability (aka “leaky gut”) with dietary exposure to wheat/gluten. 2 So if we take this literally for a moment that means dietary gluten is some kind of irritant to the gut lining for all people (based on a good sampling). The next question you have to ask is: to what extent is dietary gluten problematic and how much gluten do you have to eat for it to be a problem?
So if we believe the research to have merit, we can make some conclusions about health outcomes based on a life containing dietary gluten (and a lot of it). Here is a typical example of the process.
It starts out small… with a little wheat/gluten here and there—a sandwich for lunch, cookies or crackers for a snack or pasta for dinner. Each time you eat wheat/gluten you irritate the gut lining and make very tiny ruptures or tears in the very sensitive gut lining. These are small irritants to the gut and are easily repaired.
But here’s the real scenario: you eat wheat/gluten day in and day out with practically every meal and the gut lining tears and tears little by little, day after day. Fast forward months or years depending on the person and the gut cannot repair itself fully. Over time the interior of the gut starts to look like a piece of cheesecloth and it’s protective function is compromised.
Fast forward even further (again timing varies person to person) and now you start to notice that you are reacting to that sandwich or after that meal of pasta. Now all of sudden every time you eat certain foods you get a little upset stomach, bloating, constipation or some strange red spots on your skin. So that little sandwich or handful of crackers is not so innocent anymore.
What’s happened now and why you don’t feel so good eating some of your favorite wheat/gluten foods, is a condition called “loss of oral tolerance” e.g., your immune defenders can’t tell friend from foe, and it’s one of the catalysts that often times sets off an entire cascade of underlying gut and immune issues that can develop overtime into more serious conditions like dysbiosis, systemic inflammation, other food sensitivities, and even conditions like SIBO.
Issues With Dietary Wheat/Gluten Are Real
The notion that wheat and in particular gluten can cause an entire cascade of gut and immune health issues is not an urban myth. There are close to 2000 research articles linking gluten to a wide-range of degenerative health issues from heart disease to autoimmune conditions and asthma to chronic skin problems.
Just because your doctor, friends, co-workers, or even people on the internet may not believe that gluten can be a real problem, doesn’t mean that you should jump on the bandwagon and just brush it aside especially if you’ve been suffering from conditions like leaky gut, brain fog, skin issues, depression, chronic fatigue, and even autoimmune disease.
More importantly, you have to understand that loss of gut function, bacterial imbalances, autoimmune conditions, cognitive degeneration and so forth, don’t just appear overnight—in most cases they take years to slowly wreak havoc in the body.
- Everyone gets “transient” intestinal permeability (aka “leaky gut”) with dietary exposure to wheat/gluten
- Gluten-related illness can be a bit of a chameleon and symptoms can ping-pong from one body system to another—outside of the gut
- Non-celiac gluten sensitivity can be just as problematic as celiac disease for higher risk people
- If you sit-on-the-fence more often than take action when it comes to your health and well-being, that non-action will bounce back and smack you right in the gut
- You can take dietary and lifestyle steps in order to get symptoms under control and bring underlying body function back into balance.
If You Say Yes to Any of The Following… maybe you should get a functional assessment to help you discover the root causes of what’s ailing your so that you can make the right decisions.
- Do you have a history of digestive issue or possibly a leaky gut?
- Have you had a round of antibiotics in the last 18-24 months?
- Do you have symptoms that just won’t go away no matter what you do?
- Do you have food sensitivities and allergies?
- Does your energy crash mid-morning or late afternoon or you need several cups of coffee to get you through the day?
- Do you suffer with aches and pains and stiffness in your joints?
- Do you have problems getting or staying asleep?
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1 Fasano A, Berti I, Gerarduzzi T, et al. Prevalence of celiac disease in at-risk and not-at-risk groups in the United States. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2003;163(3):268–292.
2 Hollon J, Fasano A, Puppa EL, et al. Effect of gliadin on permeability of intestinal biopsy explants from celiac disease patients and patients with non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Nutrients. 2015 Feb 27;7(3):1565-76.
Disclaimer: the views and nutritional advice expressed in this publication are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical advice. No information provided should be interpreted as a diagnosis of any disease, nor an attempt to treat or prevent or cure any disease or condition. All information in this publication is for educational purposes only and Aine-Marie and Advesta Health encourages its clients and members to continue to work in a partnership with qualified medical professional. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider or seek medical assistance. Reading, sharing, or downloading this publication does not establish a doctor patient relationship with Aine-Marie or any Advesta Health employee or consultant including any of our licensed health practitioners, coaches, dieticians or nutritionists.