One very common factor in poor health is receiving more and more attention of late Gluten Sensitivity/Intolerance. Some of you are asking “Is he talking about Celiac disease?” Well, yes and no.
Gluten sensitivity issues are, at their core, a genetic problem. Worldwide, sensitivity to gluten containing grains is the most common genetic disorder affecting 1 in 200 people on the planet. These are numbers for out-right Celiac disease. Celiac disease is a condition where the ingestion of gluten containing grains causes an immune and inflammation response from the body because of a genetic abnormality the does not allow the body to process the protein, gluten. This results in bowel inflammation, immune system dysregulation, damage to the wall of the small intestine, and a variety of possible symptoms including: chronic diarrhea/loose stools, weight loss, frequent infections, fatty stools, abdominal pain, headaches, “IBS”, infertility, anemia, reflux, eczema, chronic fatigue, and a host of others.
However, even though 1 in 200 people will test positive for Celiac disease, the genetic mutation is present in around 40% of the population. This results in very large numbers of people who are still sensitive to gluten to some degree without having full blown celiac disease, and without testing positive on standard celiac screening blood work. Some people put the number of Americans with some degree of gluten sensitivity at 1 in 7. This is obviously an enormous number of people. In my own practice, I can not say that I find it to be as high as one in seven, but a very large number of the people that I test, who had no idea that gluten was a problem for them, come up as being gluten sensitive.
So, what does that mean: “Gluten sensitive”? As stated above it is very possible to have a reaction to gluten that is more mild than what is associated with Celiac disease. This means that your body still responds to gluten in a negative way. The immune system still has to respond to the offending food, and there is still local inflammation that occurs as a response to the food. Over time, these reactions can cause other problems as the body spirals into a state of chronic immune and inflammation response.
Diseases that are associated with gluten sensitivity include: anemia, anxiety, depression, ADD/ADHD, chronic fatigue, Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, migraines, infertility, unexplained miscarriages, type 1 Diabetes, osteoporosis, thyroiditis, arthritis, and others. The two main problems that gluten sensitivity causes is chronic inflammation which causes many of the problems above, and poor vitamin/mineral absorption, because of the damage to the small intestine which causes the anemia and osteoporosis.
The gold standard for determining gluten sensitivity is to have a combination of blood work and genetic testing done. However, this is very expensive. A company that I work with, Diagnos-Techs out of Washington state, has developed a screening for gluten sensitivity using a saliva sample. I have found this method to be very accurate. I can say without a doubt that every patient of mine that has had a positive result come up, who has then gone on to avoid glutens, has experienced a significant change for the better in their health. The test seems to be much more sensitive than the blood test for picking up people who are gluten sensitive, but not to the point of having Celiac disease. It can be run by itself fairly inexpensively (around $50), or can be included in a more comprehensive look at the digestive system.
If gluten sensitivity is present there a few things which must be done. First and foremost all gluten foods must be avoided. As this is a genetic condition, there is no way around this. Gluten containing foods include: wheat, rye and barley. Oat is commonly included as well because it is does contain some possible “problem” proteins, and also because it is almost always grown on fields where wheat is also grown and so has traces of gluten in it. An eighth (1/8) of a wheat cracker per day is enough gluten to maintain that inflammation reaction, so it really must be avoided almost entirely, Most people find a significant improvement in symptoms within 1-3 weeks of being gluten-free. Also, it is a good idea to supplement those nutrients that tend be deficient in people with small intestine damage caused by gluten sensitivity. Those are: B12, folic acid, vitamin E, iron, carnitine, and selenium. L-Glutamine, an amino acid that is the preferred fuel of small intestine cells, is also a good supplement to speed the healing of the intestinal lining. I often see that the damage caused by the gluten starts a snow-ball effect that allows other problems to occur such as yeast infections, bacteria and parasite issues, leaky gut syndrome, and others. So, working with a practitioner who understand how to diagnose and treat those conditions is important. Enzymes and acidophilus are also important supplements in helping the body to heal. Gluten sensitivity is also a major factor in adrenal stress, so assessing the health of the adrenals is also useful.
I could go on, but space does not allow it. I am sure you get that idea that 1) this is a major hidden health issue and 2) the effects of gluten sensitivity are far reaching in the body. If you suspect that you might be gluten sensitive, I would encourage you to either do a dietary trial of eating no gluten (read those labels!), or getting properly tested. I recently worked with a woman who had stomach pain and discomfort for over 40 years with nobody being able to tell her what the problem was. We found her to be gluten sensitive and the pain went away almost immediately after 40 years of being present. Please do not let the same thing happen to you or someone you know. It is such an easy thing to find out, and finding out can save a lifetime of pain as well as the onset of other diseases that it causes. Be healthy and eat well.