#GF. Gluten Free. You should really consider it as more than just the latest trend. Yes, you. The one without Celiac. Did you know that 1% of the population has Celiac Disease, but millions of others have what is considered "gluten intolerance" or a gluten allergy? That means that for these people who cannot process wheat in their system properly, many of whom don't even realize they're not, this can cause serious health problems.
Gluten is found in: wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut, and oats.
Let's try and explain it here, coming from an everyday person like yourself, with a deep interest in mixing the science stuff with the food stuff. Here it goes: For people who are intolerant or allergic to gluten, this substance, which literally means "glue" can really do damage. Inside your small intestine are these tiny little hairs, called intestinal villi, which grab onto the nutrients that pass through your system, so that you can absorb the essential nutrients your body needs from your food.
When you are intolerant to gluten, these hairlike structures which normally stick up become damaged and eroded, thus making it much more difficult for you to absorb those nutrients. For many people with gluten intolerance this is why we joke they "rent" their food. Many who cannot properly absorb these nutrients and digest their food because of this intolerance have bowel issues. In one end and out the other. Why is it a problem to not sufficiently absorb nutrients from food?
Well, for one, you're not being properly nourished. This can lead to chronic fatigue, constipation, stomach pain, even migraines. The inflammation that this process causes is definitely not beneficial to your skin or immune system.
What can I do to find out if I'm gluten intolerant or have celiac? While on your current diet (that means having been eating gluten on a regular basis), you can get tested to see if your body responds. The problem though, is that this doesn't always work. The testing is not always accurate. For example, there are many people with autoimmune diseases, thyroid, adrenal, who have noticed exponential health improvements after having done nothing but removing gluten from their diet, yet they received a "false positive" on their celiac test.
Celiac disease is the most extreme, serious form of gluten intolerance. The only way it can be managed is by not only eliminating all gluten from the diet, but preventing cross contamination. That means, for people with Celiac, even a breadcrumb can have them rolling over in pain for days. Fact.
Gluten intolerance is also hereditary. If you have people in your family with gluten intolerance, there's a greater chance that you have it too. And what could be worse than causing your body so much harm just because you didn't know you had it?
Here are my thoughts: I have two aunts who no longer eat gluten. Why? One of my aunts recently discovered she has a gene mutation known as MTHRFTHR (mother father something or other). Basically, because of this mutation, her body is unable to process Vitamin B like most people. As a result, she must take special injections to get the proper nutrients her body needs. Her doctor informed her that gluten causes a reaction that is especially harmful for her system since she has this mutation, and since then she has avoided gluten at all costs, and has much more energy. How so? Well, this crazy biker yoga-lates wild lovely woman of my aunt (who happened to take me out kayaking once when I had a staph infection if that gives you any idea) used to, despite her exercise and natural energy, have a killer crash in the mid afternoon. Now? Much more energy and no unnatural slump. We've all noticed her skin is much clearer (go girl). My other aunt has a thryoid problem. She no longer eats gluten. I don't know her whole story, but go with it. All I know is that her skin is beauteous. Her daughters were recently tested for gluten intolerance and tested positive. They no longer eat gluten.
It's been a domino effect. Now I have another aunt and a cousin who have also followed suit. And here I am now too.Main takeaway here: all things considered, I'd rather be safe than sorry. Gluten is not essential to my diet. I do not need it to survive. If anything it makes me unhealthier.
What's the bigger picture of why I went gluten free? Well it's pretty weird. Ever since I got back from Europe (where I was for the Fall Semester last year) I have had horrible stomach pains, and very, very bizarre migraines. Ocular migraines in fact, where I see a jagged edge in one eye and am (no lie) temporarily partially blind. They usually last 30 minutes and the only other time I've gotten one was Junior year of highschool after running the 5th mile in cross country practice (maybe it was dehydration and stress?). This summer I had 4 in a span of 2 months. I got my retinas checked out and visited multiple doctors who told me that nothing is wrong with my brain or my eyes, and that it is mainly due to extreme stress and (get this) too much dark chocolate or soy. The night before my most painful migraine (that had me in Urgent Care) I had an entire bowl of edamame soy beans and dark chocolate for dinner. So, you can imagine that when the doctor told me that I had trouble not laughing out loud. He hit the nail right on the head.
About the migraines: Since I've also learned that going gluten free can help with migraines, I've been determined to stick with it. I definitely don't get them as often, and to deal with my stress I now do hot yoga at least once a week for a 90 minute session, which helps me control my breathing and really does make me feel better.
Since my aunts have told me how healthy they feel, in the beginning of the summer I eliminated all gluten from my diet and kept a food diary. In two days, no lie, the stomach pain I was constantly having, went away. Gone. In two weeks I noticed my energy levels were a little bit better. By week 4 I eliminated all coffee from my diet, because I became jittery after just one cup. I no longer drink it regularly because I just don't need it. This is someone who has been drinking up to 4 cups of coffee a day since I had mono junior year during school because I could not stay awake.
Pretty amazing right?
Other reasons I've decided to stay off gluten? I've lost weight. 13 pounds to date since June. I'm feeling like I did back when I was in my prime in high school! Much more clear-minded, energetic, and healthy!
What we put in our bodies hold power. Food is fuel, I say it all the time, and much of the food we eat in America today is just downright junk (to put it politely). For example they've changed wheat so much that many people cannot digest it for that simple reason alone. The bestselling book Wheat Belly explains all of this in great detail.
Here are some reasons why you might consider eliminating gluten for good:
Weight loss/Healthy Shape: -You'll avoid foods like: pasta, cake, brownies, cookies, donuts, bread, sweets with added gluten for flavor.
-You'll avoid drinks like: beer.
-Your diet will be much more nutrient-focused and will consist of: meat, eggs, nuts, seeds, oils, fruits, leafy greens, vegetables, brown rice, quinoa, and (sometimes) corn.
-You'll treat yourself instead with drinks like: wine, hard cider. Desserts like: Gluten free ice cream and sorbets, chocolates. The occasional gluten-free versions of your favorite treats: donuts, brownies, cakes, cookies.Try to stay away from "gluten-free junk food" aka the same bready, sugary foods you've now avoided, only using corn, rice starch as substitutes. Many gluten free people who change their diet in this way run the risk of developing type 2 diabetes because they don't focus on the right ways of eating.
Bottom line: Because glutinous foods are more readily available and the only options sometimes for desserts, you'll eat less bad stuff in general. At Starbucks, for example, I never eat the baked goods, because I can't, because I know they aren't good for me. As a treat, instead, I'll get some chocolate if I'm really desperate, but really I just stick with an iced passion tea now. (I used to drink Iced Caramel Macchiatos like nobody's business, but the caramel in them is full of gross chemicals, and yes, gluten). It just makes life EASIER for you because it's a good predictor of foods that aren't good for you in the first place. If it has gluten: probably not healthy. period.
- You may find you have significantly more energy, no more chronic fatigue for no reason
- Clearer skin
- Happier (yes: depression patients have been told to go off gluten) Maybe it's that gluey substance that's getting them stuck in their ruts?
- Weight loss
- Better sleep
- Easier digestion
- Prevent health problems down the road
Wouldn't it be horrible to find out that you've wrecked your insides all this time because you didn't know you had gluten intolerance? You should do one or both of two things:
- Try eliminating it from your diet for 2 weeks and see how you feel. If you feel better, then I'd recommend staying off gluten.
- You should get tested for intolerance or celiac. There are a number of ways doctors test, but you must be still eating gluten in your diet (for about 2 weeks) when you get tested or it won't be as accurate. Ask yours.
According to The New England Journal of Medicine, 55 “diseases” can be caused by gluten consumption (Hyman).
- irritable bowel disease
- inflammatory bowel disease
- canker sores
- rheumatoid arthritis
- multiple sclerosis
- and almost all other autoimmune diseases.
Gluten is also linked to many psychiatric and neurological diseases, including anxiety,depression, schizophrenia, dementia, migraines, epilepsy, and neuropathy (nerve damage). It has also been linked to autism.
Here's what they're looking for:
Testing for Gluten Sensitivity or Celiac Disease
There are gluten allergy/celiac disease tests that are available through Labcorp or Quest Diagnostics. All these tests help identify various forms of allergy or sensitivity to gluten or wheat. They will look for:
- IgA anti-gliadin antibodies
- IgG anti-gliadin antibodies
- IgA anti-endomysial antibodies
- Tissue transglutaminase antibody (IgA and IgG in questionable cases)
- Total IgA antibodies
- HLA DQ2 and DQ8 genotyping for celiac disease (used occasionally to detect genetic suspectibility).
- Intestinal biopsy (rarely needed if gluten antibodies are positive–based on my interpretation of the recent study)
When you get these tests, there are a few things to keep in mind.
In light of the new research on the dangers of gluten sensitivity without full blown celiac disease, I consider any elevation of antibodies significant and worthy of a trial of gluten elimination. Many doctors consider elevated anti-gliadin antibodies in the absence of a positive intestinal biopsy showing damage to be “false positives.” That means the test looks positive but really isn’t significant.
We can no longer say that. Positive is positive and, as with all illness, there is a continuum of disease, from mild gluten sensitivity to full-blown celiac disease. If your antibodies are elevated, you should go off gluten and test to see if it is leading to your health problems.
So now you see–that piece of bread may not be so wholesome after all! Follow the advice I’ve shared with you today to find out if gluten may be the hidden cause of your health problems. Simply eliminating this insidious substance from your diet, may help you achieve lifelong vibrant health.
(Copyright Dr. Mark Hyman, MD 2013)
Besides gluten intolerance in general, you may consider how messed up the wheat in our country is in general, and how that has an important role in making so many sick. This is an awesome look at the changes and even a suggestion that for those without celiac to switch to "honest, old-fashioned whole wheat" instead of gluten free ultra processed alternatives, like breads made with guar gum, rice flour, added sugar, etc.
FINALLY, because I'm all about social media, here are some cool apps for Gluten Free!
Favorite gluten free treat that still feels just as sinful: Pumpkin Macarons from Trader Joe's-- holy hannah they're amazing.
Anyways, I don't mean to scare you this far in advance of Halloween, but I do hope you'll consider looking into a gluten free or low gluten diet. There are many reasons to limit gluten and even eliminate it in your diet and if any of this rings a bell I would suggest you look further into how you can change your diet to be a little bit more fruity and veggy friendly and a lot LESS gluey.
Bon Appetit et Bonne Sante!!