Are you eating something every day that could be making you sick? I was! During my second year of medical school I was diagnosed with Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder that caused my thyroid to be overactive. Each night before going to bed, I would eat two pieces of sprouted whole-wheat toast so that I could make it through the night without losing weight. Little did I know that each night I was poisoning myself. At that time, I was not aware of the gluten/autoimmune/thyroid connection and my intolerance to gluten.
For some, gluten can wreak havoc on the body and is the root cause of many diseases. Do you or someone you know suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), migraine headaches, pre- menstrual syndrome (PMS), attention deficit disorder (ADD), thyroid problems, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, fatigue, weight gain, anxiety, depression or an autoimmune disease? If so, you could have a gluten sensitivity or possibly celiac disease. More then 55 diseases have been linked to gluten. Gluten is a protein found in many grains such as wheat, semolina, spelt, kamut, rye and barley. Oats do not inherently contain gluten, but because of cross-contamination in the processing methods, it should be assumed that oats contain gluten unless purchased as certified gluten-free.
Gluten (the Latin word for glue) is what gives bread its airy and fluffy texture and dough its sticky texture. Because I have a gluten intolerance myself, I am hyperaware of how many different products it is in. Gluten is found in almost everything! It’s so ubiquitous that our government does not require that it be labeled on packages, and it is often hidden under such names as hydrolyzed vegetable protein, modified food starch or vegetable protein.
Gluten is also used as a stabilizing agent in many packaged and processed foods such as salad dressings and mayonnaise. It’s in beauty products, make- up, shampoo, lotions, medications and supplements. It’s even in non-self-adhesive stamps and envelopes.
Some people have absolutely no difficulty with eating gluten. However, for many, it is a real problem contributing to real disease. Up to 30 percent of those of European descent carry the genes for celiac disease, which means they are at higher risk for having health problems related to eating gluten. It is estimated that 1 in 30 people have gluten sensitivity and 1 in 200 have full-blown celiac disease.
One theory as to why there has been such a dramatic in- crease in celiac disease is that the wheat in the United States has been genetically modified and contains much higher amounts of gluten. By doing so, the food industry has been able to supersize food and create such products as extra-large cinnamon buns and gigantic fluffy bagels.
Inflammation is the root cause of many diseases. Both celiac disease and gluten sensitivity create inflammation that can affect virtually every organ system in the body.
The single best way to determine if you have an issue with gluten is to take it out of your diet for at least two or three weeks and then reintroduce it. Please note that glu- ten is a very large protein, and it can take months and even years to clear from your system. The longer you can elimi- nate it from your diet before reintroducing it, the better.
The best advice that I share with my patients is that if they feel significantly better off gluten or feel worse when they reintroduce it, then gluten is likely a problem for them. In order to get accurate results from this testing method, you must eliminate 100 percent of the gluten from your diet. Another way to determine if you are gluten sensitive is to ask your doctor to order the following tests: IgA anti-gliadin antibodies (these are found in about 80 percent of people with celiac dis- ease), IgG anti-gliadin antibodies, IgA anti-endomysial antibod- ies, Tissue Transglutaminase antibodies, Total IgA antibodies, Genetic testing (HLA DQ2 and HLA DQ8) and Intestinal biopsy.
I’d like to mention that one potential problem with test- ing is that gluten is made up of several hundred peptides, and gliadin is made up of 12 different sub-fractions. Most modern-day testing focuses on only the alpha-gliadin (one of the 12 sub-fractions), and therefore there is consider- able room for error and false negative tests. A new laboratory (Cyrex Lab) has recently opened that is testing for these sub-fractions and may help to minimize false negatives.
Eliminating 100 percent of the gluten from your diet means all of it. Even trace amounts of gluten from cross contamination or medications or supplements can be enough to cause an immune reaction in your body. The 80/20 rule or “we don’t eat it in our house, just when we eat out” is a complete misconception. An article published in 2001 stated that for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, eating gluten just once a month increased the relative risk of death by 600 percent. When in doubt, go without. You are not missing any vital nutrients by not eating gluten. In fact, you may be saving your life or the life of someone you love. From my own personal experience, being gluten free has dramatically changed my life for the better.