Gluten Sensitivity - Should You Be tested?

Gluten is everywhere, literally and figuratively. It’s in more foods then we know and in many of our conversations about food. You may have noticed there seems to be a lot of information about gluten that is confusing. So here are a few important puzzle pieces to help you develop a clearer picture of the facts.

The first piece of the gluten puzzle to know is that our food is changing. Grains containing gluten - wheat, spelt, kamut, barley and rye- eaten for generations, are not the same grains found in our food today. One reason is because wheat hybrids have been developed to yield higher protein content. Second, food manufacturers have made chemical modifications to gluten so it can dissolve in water more easily (Gluten is Latin for ‘glue’). And third, research on the hidden impact of GMO’s on gluten is, well, in the embryonic stages.

The second part of the gluten puzzle is that while our food is changing, the human digestive system has not. Our digestive system has not adapted to processing these ‘new wheats’. These altered varieties appear to be a major factor in the dramatic increase in gluten sensitivity.

The third piece to understanding gluten sensitivity is to understand how tough it is to digest something that your gut (and immune system) does not ‘recognize’.

New or ‘foreign’ proteins, such as enriched gluten products, confuse the immune system. This may result in intestinal permeability (known as ‘Leaky gut’, when small molecules of undigested food particles leak out into your bloodstream), systemic inflammation and auto-immune attacks on the body’s own tissues. See the ‘Gluten Reaction Flow Chart’ for the potential impact of gluten on a variety of body systems and organs.

Gluten Sensitive: It’s Not Just a Gut Feeling

Maybe you have had the experience of being foggy headed, yet once you stopped eating gluten, you had a clearer mind? That may not be all ‘in your head’, because gluten can be a ‘brain drain’. Yes your gas and headaches may be connected!

While doctors have been traditionally taught that gluten causes diarrhea, New research shows that brain and nervous system tissues are even more sensitive to gluten than the gut. And that’s something to take very seriously. See the chart: “Gluten –It’s not all in your gut”.

In Dr. David Perlmutter’s groundbreaking book Grain Brain, he reveals that anti-gliadan antibodies may combine with specialized proteins in our brains that mimic gliadan protein found in gluten containing foods. When this happens, gluten affects our brain and the entire nervous system. Balance issues, unexplained neurological problems, and dementia may be associated with the inflammatory effect that gluten is having on the nervous system in sensitive people.

The fourth piece to the gluten puzzle is to get accurately tested by a professional that knows how to test and treat for the sophisticated subtleties that can exist. Gluten sensitivity cannot be identified by conventional allergy skin tests. The traditional gold standard of an intestinal biopsy can also miss gluten sensitivity because of gluten’s potential damage to tissues beyond the digestive system. Because of the damage gluten can cause, and the vast numbers of people that gluten affects, I believe gluten testing should be as prevalent as cholesterol tests.

A good starting point is to order a special blood test to determine if the gut has been damaged and you have increased intestinal permeability, or ‘leaky gut’.  Increased intestinal permeability can eventually promote not only gluten but other food sensitivities as well.

Once a sensitivity has been identified, a second test of the blood can be run to determine the entire spectrum of reactivity that a patient may be having to wheat—it can determine if the different tissues such as the brain, thyroid, kidneys or skin are reacting to gluten.

A third test looks for cross reactivity to other grains and foods. Many people who are reactive to gluten are also reactive to brown rice and oats, because the genetic structure of these grains is very similar to wheat. Hence following traditional advice to substitute rice or oats for gluten grains may back fire on gluten sensitive people.

The fourth and final piece is because gluten sensitivity may be the answer to why you are experiencing unexplained or unresolved health problems, and it has the potential to impact both body and mind, it is important to seek treatment.

If you are experiencing uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms such as gas, bloating, constipation, indigestion and diarrhea, or other unexplained symptoms, get tested. Untreated, gluten sensitivities can eventually lead to brain, neurological, and autoimmune issues. 

Recently, researchers have examined the electronic health records of nearly 36 million Americans and have found a significant association between Celiac disease and 13 other autoimmune conditions. This research was presented at the 2017 World Congress of Gastroenterology by Daniel Karb, MD, Lead investigator at the University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland Ohio. Their research showed that people who had celiac disease were 5.5 timeshare likely to have migraine headaches, 7.1 times more likely to  have liver disease, 4.5 times more likely to have GERD, 4 times more likely to have anxiety, 5.5 times more likely to have arthritis, 8.4 times more likely to have colitis, and 25 times more likely to have pancreatitis than people without Celiac Disease. 

Getting tested and treated for gluten sensitivity by a professional who knows how to help you avoid the harmful long-term effects of untreated gluten or other food sensitivities may be the first step in solving puzzling health problems, and a great investment in your future health.

Knowledge is power. Once you know whether you are gluten sensitive or reactive to other foods, you are in a better position to take charge of your health.

Since 1999, Dr. Patrick Giammarise, DC has helped thousands of people in Chico, Redding and the Sacramento Valley by using a whole-body systems approach to health. He specializes in providing natural relief for food and environmental sensitivities, intolerances and digestive problems. For more information contact Dr. Patrick at 530-899-8741.

First published in the Lotus Guide for Healthy Living,  Updated November 25, 2017

Related Articles

Going Gluten Free

Gluten and the Brain 

Gluten Sensitivity Intolerance Self Test

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