Natural medicine with Dr. Monique
The gospel truth on gluten
I get a lot of questions from patients and friends these days about gluten. Why are so many people suddenly so sensitive? Is it a fad or something worth looking into? What are the symptoms? Are we just more aware of gluten sensitivity or is our health changing?
As a naturopathic physician, my advice is that gluten sensitivity is definitely worth investigating. Regarding the sudden spike in awareness and the appearance of gluten-free options on so many menus, consider the words of Dr. Joseph A. Murray, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic: “Something has changed in our environment to make it much more common.”
Is it the wheat? Is it our bodies? Actually, it’s both.
Historically, the first wheats used were emmer (faro) and einkorn, both of which are much lower in gluten than modern wheats. The genetics of today’s wheat are different – it’s been significantly hybridized to increase gluten levels for baking. Increased gluten makes bread rise and increases chewiness and volume, which is appealing to consumers and manufacturers, but poses challenges for many digestive systems.
Recently a senior research scientist at MIT hypothesized that Roundup (glyphosate) causes increased reactions to gluten. Stephanie Seneff said, “Gluten usually forms cross-mesh connections between different amino acids, and glyphosate would disrupt that because it would prevent the cross-mesh by binding to the gluten and causing the gluten to stay in the form that is known to be more allergenic. So we believe glyphosate causes the gluten to assume the form that is more allergenic.”
This is a good reason to buy organic wheat.
Our bodies have changed, as well. As the use of higher-gluten wheat became widespread, health organizations have been documenting the results. Recently, the Mayo Clinic tested the blood of young adults collected from 1948 to 1956 and compared it to age and gender matched young adults of today. They found nearly a five-fold increase in Celiac Disease (the highest level of sensitivity) today compared to the 1950s.
You can be sensitive to gluten without having celiac disease. There are different degrees of illnesses with regards to gluten. At the 11th international Celiac Disease Symposium, three major gluten or wheat–related pathogenic conditions were defined.
First is celiac disease, which can be diagnosed with blood antibody tests, a small bowel endoscopic biopsy and the patient’s response to a gluten free diet. (A genetic susceptibility testing of HLA DQ2 and DQ8 genotype is also used occasionally).
Second, there are gluten sensitivities less acute than celiac, usually diagnosed with a positive IgG and IgA blood test, negative IgE, negative biopsy, clinical symptoms and resolution from a gluten-free diet.
Third, there are lesser gluten/wheat allergies diagnosed with positive IgE antibodies.
The most common symptoms of celiac gluten sensitivity are: abdominal pain, diarrhea and bloating. However, it may present less likely symptoms such as irritability, anemia, stomach upset, joint pain, muscle cramps, skin rash, mouth sores, dental and bone disorders (such as osteoporosis), tingling in the legs and feet (neuropathy), autoimmune disease, infertility, and many more.
Celiac disease effects approximately 1 percent of the population.
So, what to do if you have a gluten sensitivity? The cure for all levels of gluten sensitivity is to avoid gluten or wheat. Gluten is found in wheat (spelt), rye and barley. Oats do not contain gluten but most of the oat products on the market have been contaminated by wheat and therefore are reactive to people with celiac. Rice, corn, quinoa, potato and sweet potato are starches that are non-gluten alternatives.
It may seem daunting at first to think of going gluten-free, but health is not about being perfect, it is being aware and knowing the general condition of your body. How is your environment (food, weather, your workout, your office chair) affecting your body? Even if you don’t currently feel an adverse reaction, try staying away from gluten for two weeks and see how you feel.
Monique Lai, ND, is an alternative health expert who has lived in Jackson Hole for the past 14 years. She obtained her doctorate in naturopathic medicine from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in 1996. In her family practice, Lai works with patients to restore their health. She enjoys focusing on autoimmune disease, thyroid disease, digestive disorders, menopause and diabetes.