In recent years, the benefits of a gluten-free diet have become widely recognized and, according to recent research, people are embracing gluten-free in ever-growing numbers, even though the number of Americans diagnosed with celiac disease has not increased since 2009.1,2,3,4
In 2009, an estimated 0.5 percent of Americans were on a gluten-free diet. By 2014, that number had more than tripled, to 1.69 percent. Meanwhile, the number of people diagnosed with celiac disease remained fairly steady, declining only slightly, from 0.7 percent to 0.58 percent.
Gluten-free diets are particularly popular among Caucasian women and younger adults between the ages of 20 and 39 — many of whom do it simply because it makes them feel better.
It’s well worth noting though that while gluten-free has many advantages, just because a food is gluten-free does not automatically make it healthy. There are plenty of gluten-free junk foods out there.
Just because a food is gluten free doesn’t make it a health food, just as a food sold at Whole Foods does not make it a health food. There are plenty of lousy fake foods in both categories.
For most people, drastically cutting down on your net carbs (total carbs minus fiber) is the key to optimal health. This includes but is not limited to grains (not just wheat, as all grains will spike your insulin levels and contribute to insulin and leptin resistance).
Doing this will help your body burn fat rather than carbs as its primary fuel, which helps optimize your mitochondrial function and boost weight loss.
Is Going Gluten-Free a Pointless Fad?
Some doctors dismiss gluten-free as a mere fad,5 fueled by celebrity endorsements and an increasing number of books linking wheat and gluten to a wide range of health problems, from gut dysfunction and allergies to neurological diseases and autoimmune problems.
This includes The New York Times Best Seller, “Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar; Your Brain’s Silent Killer,” written by Dr. David Perlmutter, a neurologist, in which he reveals how processed grains contribute to dementia.
My own book on this subject, “The No-Grain Diet,” was published in 2003. While still in medical practice, I recommended eliminating gluten as a first line intervention before I would further fine-tune a patient’s diet to address their specific health problems.
As the title of my now 13-year-old book indicates, I believe most everyone would benefit from avoiding all grains, not just gluten, as doing so well help you burn fat much better. Plus, healthy fat is a far cleaner and more efficient fuel for your body.
Despite the prevailing skepticism, studies are now confirming that many people do indeed experience adverse reactions to gluten even if they test negative for celiac disease. This suggests gluten-sensitivity is a real problem,6 and that gluten-free diets may benefit many — not just those with celiac.
Celica Disease Versus Wheat Allergy and Gluten-Intolerance
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder. People with celiac suffer severe gastrointestinal (GI) reactions and malabsorption of nutrients in response to gluten found in wheat and other grains, and a strict 100 percent gluten-free diet is critical for these people.
Celiac disease is typically diagnosed by measuring the presence of autoantibodies such as transglutaminase 2 (TG2), which is thought to be the most sensitive marker for celiac.
Many others have wheat allergy or some level of gluten intolerance or sensitivity, and fare better on a gluten-free diet even if they don’t have celiac disease. If you’re allergic to wheat, consuming it will result in an immune reaction that can be diagnosed by measuring antibodies called IgE and/or other immune system markers.
Food intolerances, on the other hand, are typically related to a lack of a specific enzyme to break down the food in question. Food intolerances tend to generate fewer symptoms that are slower in onset, and can therefore be more difficult to diagnose.
Diarrhea or constipation, bloating, headache, anxiety and fatigue are common symptoms of a food intolerance, but may not appear until hours or even days afterward. Gluten sensitivity IS real though, researchers say, and may affect up to 6 percent of the population.
Gluten Sensitivity Is Real
As reported by WebMD:7
“Some people suffer changes within their bodies after eating gluten that are separate and distinct from those that accompany either celiac disease or wheat allergy …
‘We don’t know what is triggering this response, but this study is the first to show that there are clear biological changes in these individuals,’ said senior researcher Armin Alaedini [Ph.D.] … an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University in New York City.
‘Based on our findings, we hope there would be greater recognition of this condition. This is a real condition. There are individuals who may not have celiac disease or wheat allergy, but still have a sensitivity to wheat,’ Alaedini said.”
“Individuals with wheat sensitivity had significantly increased serum levels of soluble CD14 and lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-binding protein, as well as antibody reactivity to bacterial LPS and flagellin.
Circulating levels of … a marker of intestinal epithelial cell damage, were significantly elevated in the affected individuals and correlated with the immune responses to microbial products …
These findings reveal a state of systemic immune activation in conjunction with a compromised intestinal epithelium affecting a subset of individuals who experience sensitivity to wheat in the absence of [celiac] disease.”
In short, people who reacted to gluten despite not having celiac disease were found to have leaky gut, which is likely what caused the immune activation.
CD14 and LPS-binding protein are microbial markers, so elevated levels suggest microorganisms from the gut are leaking into the blood stream. The presence of microbes in the blood is what causes your immune system to ramp up an inflammatory response.
Gluten Sensitivity May Affect a Majority of People
Gluten is a protein made up of glutenin and gliadin molecules, which in the presence of water form an elastic bond. Gluten can be found in grains other than wheat, including rye, barley, oats and spelt.
Gluten can also hide in processed foods under a variety of names, including but not limited to11 malts, starches, hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), texturized vegetable protein (TVP) and natural flavoring.
If you do a search of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, you will find that gluten-containing grains have been linked to dozens of adverse health effects12 and adverse modes of toxicity. Topping this list is neurotoxicity, and in his book, “Grain Brain,” Perlmutter specifically looked at the neurological impact of gluten (wheat) and casein (dairy) on both our brain and autoimmune diseases. He also believes gluten sensitivity may be involved in most chronic diseases, because of how gluten affects your immune system.
According to Dr. Alessio Fasano, director for Celiac Research and the chief of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition at Massachusetts General Hospital, gluten sensitivity may be far more prevalent than previously suspected.13 He estimates virtually all of us are affected to some degree, because we all create something called zonulin in the intestine in response to gluten.
This protein, found in wheat, barley and rye, makes your gut more permeable, which allows proteins to get into your bloodstream. This sensitizes your immune system and promotes inflammation and autoimmunity. In the press release announcing the publication of his new book, “Gluten Freedom,” Fasano said:14
“We’ve shown now that gluten sensitivity actually exists. It’s moved from a nebulous condition that many physicians dismissed to a distinctly identifiable condition that’s quite different than celiac disease. Gluten sensitivity affects six to seven times more people than celiac disease.”
How Wheat Affects Your Health
Wheat is one of the most widely grown crops in the Western world. But the wheat of today is vastly different from the wheat our ancestors grew and ate, and these differences help explain the rise in gluten intolerance:
•Hybridization has increased the proportion of gluten protein in wheat. Until the 19th century, wheat was also typically mixed with other grains, beans and nuts; pure wheat flour has been milled into refined white flour only during the last 200 years. The resulting high-gluten, refined grain diet most of you have eaten since infancy was simply not part of the diet of previous generations.
•Glyphosate contamination may also play a distinct role in the development of celiac disease, wheat allergies and wheat sensitivity. The use of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the broad-spectrum herbicide Roundup, has dramatically risen over the past 15 years.
According to Stephanie Seneff, Ph.D., a research professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), glyphosate use on genetically engineered (GE) corn, soy and conventional wheat is strongly correlated with the rise in celiac disease.Her initial findings were published in the journal Entropy15 in 2013, which was followed by a second paper16 linking glyphosate to celiac disease specifically. Glyphosate destroys the villi in your gut, which reduces your ability to absorb vitamins and minerals. Also, wheat contains gliadin, which is difficult to break down.
Normally, a reaction takes place that builds connections between different proteins in the wheat, but glyphosate gets right in the middle of that process, resulting in wheat that is highly indigestible. The end result is gut dysbiosis, (a condition of microbial imbalance in your intestines that can lead to gut inflammation and leaky gut) and an overgrowth of pathogens.
Additionally, your gut produces serotonin in response to tryptophan. Wheat is a good source of tryptophan, but when the wheat is contaminated with glyphosate, your gut cells go into overdrive and begin producing too much serotonin, which in turn produces many of the common symptoms of celiac disease, such as diarrhea.
•Wheat proteins can cause leaky gut and associated health problems. Glutinous proteins called prolamines increase the permeability of your intestinal tract, thereby sensitizing your immune system.
As gaps develop between the cells that make up the lining of your intestines, undigested food, bacteria and metabolic waste products can leak into your blood stream, hence the term “leaky gut.” These foreign substances challenge your immune system and increase inflammation in your body.17Gluten can also contribute to health problems you might not immediately associate with gut dysfunction, such as acne,18,19,20atopic dermatitis,21 recurrent aphthous stomatitis (RAS — a type of mouth sore)22 and vitiligo, a skin condition that results in the loss of pigment.23