Gluten Sensitivity – It’s Real, So Why the Confusion?

by Martin Rutherford, D.C.

Gluten FactsA host of new and ongoing research studies confirm that sensitivities or allergies to gluten is a serious health issue.  In fact the rapidly emerging volume of research, well documented in peer reviewed medical, neurological, endocrine, rhuematolical, GI and nutritional journals is overwhelming in its confirmation of the condition and the importance of its implication to overall health.  Not just gut health but even more-so brain and neurological health.

Yet while counseling patients with these conditions and how gluten allergies and their cross sensitivities effect tissue damage and symptoms, and the need to eliminate these substances from their diet, the functional nutrition clinician frequently runs into resistance.  Confusion and misunderstanding will often cause the patients to not accept the dietary recommendations with confidence or at all.  Even after the patient has definitely tested positive for the gluten allergy or sensitivity there is often resistance, and the patient’s recovery is doomed to fail before it begins.

The most common reasons for the confusion and resistances are:

My doctor says “It’s a Hollywood fad”, or “There is no such thing as a wheat sensitivity”, “It (the fad) will go away like everything else.

For the record, gluten sensitivity is not a fad, and it’s not going away anytime soon.  In fact the research would suggest its understanding is more likely to explode.  But to doctors who believe they are helping their patients by denying this well documented condition you need to go online to Pubmed.  Forget the well known fact that gluten absolutely causes Celiac disease and input searches like “gluten and women”, “gluten and mood swings”, “gluten and the brain and nervous system”, “gluten and metabolism”, “gluten and bone loss”, “gluten and blood sugar”, or even “gluten and behavioral disorders” to name a few.  That should do for a start.  If he were to do so your doctor would find that a plethora of journaled peer reviewed studies relating gluten as an influence or trigger to schizophrenia, seizers, neuropathies, ADHD and autistic spectrum disorders, Alzheimer’s, MS, migraines, nutritional anemias, bone loss, depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue, diabetes, fibromyalgia, and more.  The data on this topic is substantial.

My doctor tested me for it – I don’t have it

Straight and simple.  The standard testing technology of blood serum, saliva, fecal, and endoscopic biopsy is just not good enough yet.  Most doctors use the blood test and serology just is not good enough to rule it out.  Only HLADQ2 or HLADQ8 genetic testing is close to 100% accurate.  This testing can be found online and performed at home or by an informed chronic pain physician.  If you test positive for gluten sensitivity the test is highly unlikely to be incorrect.  It is not yet embraced by the medical model, but it is performed in CLIA certified labs, the same labs that certify all medical diagnostic testing.

If you do any test and you test positive then you are gluten sensitive.  “But I tested positive, stopped eating gluten, and I don’t feel any better!!”

Or maybe you felt better for a while but it (your symptoms) came back.  Then there is something else in addition to the gluten sensitivity that is occurring in your system.  A partial list of something else — mostly cross sensitivity allergens and metabolic imbalances includes: any other food or environmental allergens, bacterial infections, viral infections, yeast, mold, drugs, chemicals (think cleaning fluids), tobacco smoke, artificial sweeteners, blood sugar, thyroid or adrenal imbalances, and once again – unfortunately – more, much more.  This is a big part of the dilemma.

Are you really off gluten?

Sure doc!! At least most of the time.  Unfortunately gluten is variably symptomatic depending on the patient.  Some patients (30%) are lucky and experience immediate responses to gluten exposure (ie Celiac patients).  But most (70%) gluten sensitive people are not immediately reactive to gluten exposure and in most cases are not even aware that gluten exposure may be triggering their neurological symptoms (anxiety, depression, fatigue, brain fog, numbness and tingling in hands and feet).  The confusion for each is different.

Group 1 who reacts to gluten immediately may not do so after no exposure for months and think they can eat it again because their gut is healed.  This does not mean you can eat it again ever.  You must remove it 100% from your diet as damage will reoccur in your gut and probably – more subtly in your nervous system and thyroid (removing it 100% is not easy because gluten seems to be in almost everything).  If you have a proven sensitivity in either group (the obvious problem is group 2 individuals is not even realizing that the gluten exposure is contributing to any of their symptoms) it is destroying your gut and some other part of your body EVERYTIME you eat it!  Thyroid, brain, joints – it could be any or all of them.  Both above groups must avoid all gluten and its cross sensitivities permanently – or ultimately suffer the consequences.  Not an easy challenge.

Permanently does not mean being gluten free most of the time or “I’m gluten free all week except for my Mrs. Fields chocolate chip cookie on Saturday night”.  The scientific data is clear – one exposure to gluten (as small as ½ piece of wheat toast per month) can stay in your system from 4 days to 8 months making every exposure reactive for a long time and reducing the ability for you to “heal” or feel symptomatic relief by 60-70% or at all.

Deciding to go off gluten is not a simple lifestyle change.  It requires certainty that you are not giving up all of your favorite foods for nothing.  You need the certainty of positive test results for both primary gluten sensitivities plus cross sensitivities and possible immune stimulators (a whole other subject) to know what should and should not be in your body.  You need to know what foods contain gluten — you need to know all factors that will sabotage your efforts and interfere with causative correction and reduction of your gluten related symptoms or you will quit the diet and remain ill.  And why wouldn’t you?  It’s not a fun diet until you start feeling normal, then and only then is it worth it.

If you are contemplating going gluten free get a Functional Medicine workup first.  Get the genetic test.  Find out about any cross sensitivities and immune stimulators you may be taking that are interfering with your recovery.  Have your thyroid, adrenals, gut and brain checked out.  Going gluten free is no joke.  Find a coach, do it right.  Good luck.

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