At 10 years old, Jeremy was missing out on his childhood. It was a really good thing his mom emailed Dr. Tom Maltese, a Functional Medicine practitioner.
Dr. Maltete tells the story: “Every week he would get one to two incredibly painful migraines (9 out of 10 on a pain scale of 1 to 10) that would last two to three days. Much of his time was spent lying in a room with dark sunglasses on while he took a pile of supplements and medications.”
As a father of five, the doctor couldn’t bear to hear of any child imprisoned by pain. He emailed the solution. It was a list of foods to eliminate.
The turnaround was remarkable. “Within three days, Jeremy’s mom emailed me and asked: “Is it possible that we are already seeing results?” His pain had dropped and he was beginning to get relief. By the fifth day, his pain was gone. When he ate some candied nuts that were coated with sugar and wheat flour on day 8, his headaches came rushing back.”
Dr. Maltese has become accustomed to such turnarounds. Patients arrive for their first visit with a wide array of issues that include ADHD, autism, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, gallstones, headaches, infertility and Hashimoto’s (thyroid trouble). They follow the simple diet advice, and get their life back in as little as a few days; without any medication.
I would think it too good to be true, except I have experienced it personally. After only a couple weeks, I no longer experience seasonal allergies, acid reflux, high blood pressure, acne, anxiety, obesity, bloating, brain fog and depression.
What food did I eliminate that made the biggest difference? It was gluten from bread and processed food.
While researching for this post, I found over 70 diseases and disorders tied to gluten sensitivity. In fact, there are over 19,000 studies linking non-celiac gluten sensitivity to health issues we see every day.
This post will explain what gluten is, what it does in your body, the symptoms it can cause and how to reverse them.There are over 70 symptoms tied to gluten sensitivity. Do these sound like you? Click To Tweet
What is gluten?
When discussing gluten sensitivity, we are usually referring to a module found in wheat, rye and barley. It’s everywhere in the standard american diet; pizza, pasta, bread, wraps. I’ve even found it added to fast food grilled chicken.
Dr. O’Bryan is one of the leading gluten sensitivity and celiac specialists in the world. He emphasizes, “GLUTEN is not bad. BAD gluten is bad.”
Cardiologist and gluten specialist, Dr. William Davis provides a great technical explanation:
“Gluten is a complex two-part protein found in wheat with virtually identical structures and amino acid sequences of the protein also found in rye and barley. Each gluten molecule comes in two parts: a larger, polymeric glutenin molecule that confers the stretchiness, or viscoelasticity, of wheat dough, and gliadin, a smaller protein. Both glutenin and gliadin share overlapping sequences also, but it’s the gliadin that is the source of most of the health issues associated with wheat, and thereby rye and barley. Note that the gliadin protein of wheat also resembles the zein protein of corn and, to a lesser degree, the avenin protein of oats, which therefore share some of the same effects, including activation of the immune system. (That’s right: While there is no gluten or gliadin in corn and oats, they have related proteins that have similar effects. Corn products in particular are not immunologically safe for people following a gluten-free lifestyle.)”
Dr. William Davis is the author of Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health. Buy on Amazon.Dr. Tom O'Bryan emphasizes: GLUTEN is not bad. BAD gluten is bad. Click To Tweet
What is gluten sensitivity?
Beyondceliac.org has a concise definition. They say, “Gluten sensitivity has been coined to describe those individuals who cannot tolerate gluten and experience symptoms similar to those with celiac disease yet lack the same antibodies and intestinal damage as seen in celiac disease.”
According to Dr. Mark Hyman, M.D., “Gluten sensitivity is actually an autoimmune disease that creates inflammation throughout the body, with wide-ranging effects across all organ systems including your brain, heart, joints, digestive tract, and more. It can be the single cause behind many different “diseases.” To correct these diseases, you need to treat the cause – which is often gluten sensitivity – not just the symptoms.”
Dr. Hymen is the author of Eat Fat, Get Thin: Why the Fat We Eat Is the Key to Sustained Weight Loss and Vibrant Health. Buy on Amazon.Gluten sensitivity is actually an autoimmune disease that creates inflammation - Dr. Mark Hyman Click To Tweet
What gluten does in the body
Gliadin causes “leaky gut” in 100% of individuals within minutes
Dr. Alessio Fasano, MD. leads a team of researchers across nine countries and is Chief of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition at Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital. He joined forces with other researchers to study the effects of the gliadin component of gluten. Here’s what they concluded in the 2015 study: “This study demonstrates that gliadin exposure induces an increase in intestinal permeability in all individuals, regardless of whether or not they have celiac disease.”
When I read the study, I noted that increased permeability was measured within minutes. Leaky gut can happen from a meal. The gut lining also heals fairly quickly – at first. But a continual bombardment of damaging meals eventually makes the permeability stick so you don’t heal anymore. Dr. Tom O’Bryan says that’s called “loss of oral tolerance.” When you cross that line, you get “pathogenic intestinal permeability”, which opens the gateway to autoimmune diseases.
Here’s how it happens…
An enzyme produced in the intestinal wall (tTG), breaks down gluten into it’s two protein building blocks, gliadin and glutenin.
Gliadin causes the gut cells to release zonulin, a protein that regulates the junctions between the gut and the blood stream.
Zonulin opens up gaps in the normally tight junctures between intestinal cells. Once these tight junctions open, your gut is considered to be “leaky”.
A leaky gut allows microbes, toxins, undigested food particles and gluten-antibodies to escape from the intestines and travel throughout the body via the bloodstream. Your immune system sees these particles as foreign invaders and mounts an attack. This is how autoimmune conditions begin.
But wait, there’s more. There’s another substance in wheat that causes damage in 100% of people. According to Dr. Davis, “…wheat germ agglutinin–indigestible to humans–is a direct intestinal toxin. If 1 mg is fed to a laboratory animal, its intestinal tract undergoes extensive damage not unlike that seen in celiac disease. The average wheat-consuming human takes in 10-20 mg per day.”
- Pro-Inflammatory, even at tiny concentrations
- Immunotoxic because it may bind to and activate white blood cells
- Neurotoxic because the molecules are small enough to pass through the blood-brain barrier. They can also attach to the protective coating on your nerves known and the myelin sheath. According to Dr. Mercola, “It is also capable of inhibiting nerve growth factor, which is important for the growth, maintenance, and survival of certain target neurons.”
- Cytotoxic (toxic to cells) because it may induce programmed cell death.
- May interfere with gene expression
- May disrupt endocrine function
- Adversely affects gastrointestinal function
- Shares similarities with certain viruses
Gliadin messes with your brain
Dr. Davis says gliadin effects the mind also: “Gliadin can also be partially digested to peptide fragments, many of them 4- or 5-amino acids long. The unique amino acid sequences of these peptides allow them to act as opiates on the human brain. As opiates (more properly “opioids”), they activate hunger, increase calorie intake, create mental “fog,” and trigger a number of other effects that vary with individual susceptibility: anxiety, anger, food obsessions, repetitive behavior, paranoia, mania, deterioration of attention span, and impulsive behavior.”
Gluten initiates cytokines that damage nerve tissue
Gluten induces the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which are chemicals that damage nerve tissue and the production of neurotransmitters.Gluten causes leaky gut, acts as an opioid on the brain and damages nerve tissue. Click To Tweet
Gluten looks like your own tissues
Dr. Amy Myers sees gluten sensitivity in her practice daily. She explains how organs in the body are impacted by gluten antibodies because of molecular mimicry:
“Every time your body is exposed to an invader (in this case gluten), your immune system memorizes its structure so that it can develop the perfect defense to that pathogen and recognize it in the future. Unfortunately, the immune system’s recognition system isn’t perfect; as long as a molecule’s structure is similar enough, the immune system registers it as an invader and attacks. Gluten, which is a particularly large protein, happens to be structurally similar to a number of your body’s tissues, particularly your thyroid. Remember, if you have an autoimmune disease, you have a leaky gut and when your ‘drawbridge is open’ large proteins like gluten get into your bloodstream where your immune system detects and attacks them.
In those with autoimmune thyroid disease, every time they eat gluten the immune system sends out antibodies to detect and destroy the gluten, but since the gluten and thyroid gland looks so similar some of those immune cells end up attacking the thyroid by mistake.
There are several other food proteins, such as casein in dairy, that have a similar molecular structure to gluten. Because of this molecular mimicry, when you eat dairy your body can get confused and think you just ate a bowl of pasta and trigger an immune reaction. “Gluten is structurally similar to thyroid tissue. Gluten antibodies may attack your thyroid. Click To Tweet
Signs of Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
What surprises people is that many of the presenting issues don’t appear to have anything to do with the digestive system.
Dr. O’Bryan says to think of it like pulling on a chain until it breaks. The chain will break at the weakest link. Your personal tipping point to a gluten sensitivity will show up wherever you are most genetically predisposed to react to the gluten antibodies.
Getting rid of gluten can eliminate the underlying cause of many symptoms. You’re probably accustomed to thinking of these as unfortunate, irreversible conditions. But actually, all are common signs of gliadin increasing permeability of the gut lining.
- abdominal cramps
- acid reflux
- alopecia areata
- autoimmune hepatitis
- autoimmune uveitis
- bipolar disorder
- brain fog
- canker sores
- cerebellar ataxia
- chronic constipation
- chronic fatigue
- CREST syndrome
- Crohn’s disease
- cravings for sugar and carbs
- dermatitis herpetiformis
- dry skin or other skin issues
- dysbiosis (leaky gut)
- food allergies
- hair loss
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- inflammatory bowel disease
- irritable bowel disease
- joint swelling and pain
- keratosis pilaris, (‘chicken skin’)
- lack of concentration
- male breast enlargement
- mood swings
- multiple sclerosis
- neuropathy (nerve damage)
- primary biliart cirrhosis
- rheumatoid arthritis
- type 1 diabetes
- type 2 diabetes
- ulcerative colitis
- weight problems
Dr. William Davis says there are several hundred, but these are the ones I found while writing the post.
Per Dr. Hyman, “Of course, that doesn’t mean that ALL cases of depression or autoimmune disease or any of these other problems are caused by gluten in everyone–but it is important to look for it if you have any chronic illness.”
Dr. Myers says, “Does everyone have a sensitivity? No. But it is an inflammatory food and most, if not all, would do better off of it.”
Dr. Any Myers is the author of The Autoimmune Solution: Prevent and Reverse the Full Spectrum of Inflammatory Symptoms and Diseases. Buy on Amazon.
Back to Dr. Tom O’Bryan’s point; these are all symptoms of an underlying autoimmune response that requires intestinal permeability (a leaky gut) to begin. Dr. Fasano’s study showed that gliadin “increases intestinal permeability in all individuals.”Gluten sensitivity will show up where you are predisposed to react to gluten antibodies. Click To Tweet
I eat bread and feel fine. Why should I care?
Dr. O’Bryan says MOST people are gluten sensitive, though many don’t have symptoms that can be felt… yet. Some people manifest symptoms as children in the form of ADHD. For others, it may take a little longer for the invisible autoimmune attack from gluten antibodies to reach a tipping point. Their first symptoms might be depression, PMS, acne, arthritis or forgetting why they walked into a room. They won’t have any idea that gluten is silently making them infertile or laying the foundation for a future Alzheimers or Parkinson’s diagnosis.
Dr. O’Bryan doesn’t pull any punches and adamantly states, “People will die from this.”
Dr. Fasano has been beating the drum about gluten sensitivity for decades. He says, “Although we’ve been eating wheat for thousands of years, we are not engineered to digest gluten. We are able to completely digest every protein we put in our mouths with the exception of one—and that’s gluten. Gluten is a weird protein. We don’t have the enzymes to dismantle it completely, leaving undigested peptides that can be harmful. The immune system may perceive them as an enemy and mount an immune response.”
Dr. Fasano is the author of Gluten Freedom: The Nation’s Leading Expert Offers the Essential Guide to a Healthy, Gluten-Free Lifestyle. Buy on Amazon.
Why is non-celiac gluten sensitivity suddenly a problem?
People rightly question why gluten is suddenly such a problem when mankind has eaten bread for thousands of years. I mean, it’s all over in the Bible (loaves and fishes, last supper, etc). The answer is that we are not eating that wheat anymore. Starting in about 1960, the world has switched to higher-yield, semi-dwarf, disease-resistant wheat varieties.
Semi-dwarf wheat is not technically genetically engineered (yet). Rather, it is modified using an older process called chemical mutagenesis. The wheat is exposed to sodium azide, a toxic chemical that behaves much like cyanide in humans. Wheat embryos are also subjected to x-ray and gamma radiation that produces mutations. Mutagenesis has been studied for a very long time, with observations of it resulting in cancer going back to 1775. That’s not a typo. We’re talking pre American Revolution.
Chemical mutagenesis of wheat falls under the FDA umbrella of “traditional breeding methods” and “hybridization”. New strains of wheat are presumed safe by the FDA, bypassing any requirement for safety testing.
This technically non-GMO wheat is actually more potentially harmful than GMOs.
A study published in 2013 compared an older version of wheat, known as “Kamut”, to the new semi-dwarf wheat. The results found that the semi-dwarf variety caused inflammation markers to increase by as much as 50%. Inflammation is the basis for most diseases.
The new semi-dwarf wheat also introduced a gluten peptide known as glia-α9 (or Glia-alpha9), that is virtually absent in older wheats. Glia-α9 happens to be the most reactive for people with celiac disease.Modern semi-dwarf wheat is not genetically modified. It's actually worse. Click To Tweet
How to test for gluten intolerance
Gluten sensitivity specialists usually recommend an elimination diet as an inexpensive first step that anyone can try. Once more, I want to emphasize that this will only reveal current symptoms that are being caused by gluten. If your autoimmune response happens to be first manifest as multiple sclerosis or cancer, then an elimination diet won’t necessarily tip you off. That said, an elimination diet will settle the question decisively for most people.
Dr. Amy Myers says, “I have found the single best ways to determine if you have an issue with gluten is to do an elimination diet and take it out of your diet for at least 2 to 3 weeks and then reintroduce it. Please note that gluten is a very large protein and it can take months and even years to clear from your system so the longer you can eliminate 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 of 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% of the gluten from your diet.”
I have detailed everything you need to know for a successful elimination diet in a post called A simple elimination diet to help you identify food sensitivities.
I also created a checklist version you can download for free. The checklist version lists only the crucial steps and nothing else.
Since there are many aspects of a gluten sensitivity that cannot be felt while the damage is being done, all of the doctors I gathered information from strongly recommend everyone have their blood tested. According to Dr. O’Bryan, the Cyrex “Array 3” panel is considered the gold standard in gluten sensitivity testing (and most others can give misleading results). The Array 3 test includes a multi-peptide panel that is reported to have a very high accuracy rate. The price of that test as of this writing is $445.
How to treat gluten sensitivity
According to Dr. Myers, “Eliminating gluten 100% from your diet means 100%. Even trace amounts of gluten from cross contamination or medications or supplements can be enough to cause an immune reaction. 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 states that for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity eating gluten just once a month increased the relative risk of death by 600%.”
Dr. O’Bryan warns that the slightest encounter with gluten – a crumb from a crouton – will activate the gluten antibodies for 3-6 months. That means 3-6 months of your immune system attacking your body because of one exposure.
Why don’t we hear about non-celiac gluten sensitivity from most doctors?
David Perlmutter, MD, FACN, ABIHM and Board-Certified Neurologist relates a typical experience: “I recently treated a patient who had a history of headaches for 40 years. I did some blood work and found that she was gluten sensitive. I took her off of gluten and her headaches went away. She then visited with her gastroenterologist who picked up the phone and called me and said “Why did you put this patient on a gluten free diet? She doesn’t have celiac disease.” I began to explain about something called non-celiac gluten sensitivity and I have to admit there was a lot of silence on the other end of the phone. There are still a lot of people that don’t believe that there really is such a thing as being gluten sensitive if you don’t have celiac disease.”
Dr. O’Bryan says it takes an average of 17 years for new medical discoveries to make it to the offices of regular doctors. Capable and well-meaning doctors have simply never been trained to connect gluten to so many health problems. Also, there’s no money in diagnosing gluten sensitivity, so pharmaceutical companies are not pushing it.
Dr.Fasano says gluten sensitivity is where celiac disease was 30 years ago, “It’s déjà vu. The patients, as usual, were visionary, telling us this stuff existed but healthcare professionals were skeptical. The confusion surrounding gluten sensitivity—testing, biomarkers—is exactly the same confusion we had around celiac disease 30 years ago. So we’re starting all over again now.”
Eliminating gluten is Step 1. Then there’s gut healing.
Gluten causes symptoms by first causing gut permeability. Once you remove the gluten, it’s time to begin healing your gut. To begin gut healing, use my simple elimination diet. It will walk you through the planning and steps to make sure you do it correctly. There are also free PDF downloads, including Day 1 Checklist for Wellness Repair and my Elimination Diet Checklist.
I also have a post on gut healing, that will give more advanced tips.
Here’s what we’ve covered.
- Gluten is a two-part protein dominant in wheat, rye and barley. There are similar proteins, to a lesser extent, in corn, oats and other grains.
- “Gluten sensitivity is actually an autoimmune disease that creates inflammation throughout the body, with wide-ranging effects across all organ systems including your brain, heart, joints, digestive tract, and more.” – Dr. Mark Hyman
- MOST people are gluten sensitive. Many erroneously equate common ailments to be part of aging when they are actually being caused by gluten. Others have the autoimmune attack bombarding their organs but don’t yet have symptoms that can be felt. Common symptoms include acne, anxiety, headaches, bloating, brain fog, dizziness, seasonal allergies and gas.
- Sensitivity is increasing because new semi-dwarf wheat varieties increase inflammation by as much as 50% and they contain much higher concentrations of a gluten peptide known as glia-α9, that is virtually absent in older wheats. Glia-α9 happens to be the most reactive for people with celiac disease.
- If you are sensitive, eliminating gluten 100% from your diet means 100%. One tiny exposure can mean 3-6 months of your immune system attacking your body.
- The best tests for gluten sensitivity are a temporary elimination diet and the Cyrex Array 3 panel. But don’t expect your doctor to be aware of either option. Capable and well-meaning doctors have simply never been trained to connect gluten to so many health problems.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (NIH Dept), “The U.S. could be facing its first sustained drop in life expectancy in the modern era…” It’s no stretch to say that gluten sensitivity is playing a role as diseases are increasing. You can help empower people to solve many health problems by simply sharing this post on social media. Just click one of the buttons below to share.
Also, don’t forget the free elimination diet checklist download!
Dr. David Perlmutter, M.D.
Book by Dr. David Perlmutter, MD: Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar–Your Brain’s Silent Killers
Seizures and Gluten Sensitivity
Dr. Tom O’Bryan, D.C, CCN, DACBN
One of the most mom-friendly interviews is in an audio-only podcast on wellnessmama.com.
Dr. William Davis, M.D.
Book by Dr. William Davis, MD: Wheat Belly Total Health: The Ultimate Grain-Free Health and Weight-Loss Life Plan
Alessio Fasano, M.D.
Spectrum of Gluten-Related Disorders: People Shall Not Live by Bread Alone
Chris Kresser, M.S., L.Ac
Dr. Tom Maltese, M.D.
Gluten and the Gut Microbiome (MP3 download)