Originally posted in “Going Against the Grain” on April 2011:
Over the past year and a half, one of things that I most dealt with personally is fully understanding what exactly it was that made me so sick. How did it all happen? How could certain foods have such a negative effect on me? What would happen if I cheated just once?
I was faithful to my gluten/casein/soy-free diet, but I have to say that I didn’t always comprehend it all. Thankfully, my doctor was always patient with me and slowly but surely helped me grasp this wealth of new research, this new perspective that has since changed my entire view on nutrition and health.
It is my hope to help others gain a new sense of awareness of this thing called food sensitivity/intolerance. It may or may not be affecting you personally, but it may be the answer to someone else’s prayer. It was to mine.
Here is the best way I know to explain each of the questions that haunted me. For more in depth information, please see a knowledgeable healthcare practitioner or visit www.Enterolab.com.
What is a food sensitivity?
A food sensitivity or intolerance is when the body treats a food particle, usually a protein, as a toxin and creates an immune response to the protein. Specific antibodies are created to ward off the invader. Eventually these antibodies may began to attack the enzymes that digest the protein along with their source, the intestines. In many cases, the person develops a “leaky gut” and the proteins make their way into the body, leading to additional autoimmune responses.
What is gluten intolerance/sensitivity?
Gluten intolerance is a form of food sensitivity specific to gluten, a protein composite found in wheat, barley, rye, and some oats.
What is the difference between an allergy and an intolerance?
An allergy is a site specific, immediate immune response to the food. Allergic reactions may be minor or life threatening. An intolerance, on the other hand, may or may not have immediate recognizable symptoms, but there is an ongoing immune response to the food that is not tolerated. This immune response may lead to autoimmune conditions, which over time, can have ill effects on the individual.
What symptoms are associated with gluten intolerance?
When a person develops an intolerance to food, an autoimmune response usually occurs as the body produces more and more antibodies to ward off the invaders. The more someone consumes, the greater the reaction. Eventually the villi in the intestines become destroyed, as in celiac disease, no longer allowing the proper absorption of food. In other cases, a person may develop a leaky gut. These are what tend to lead to a number of system issues that can vary extensively from person to person. Although not everyone has symptoms initially, below is a list of symptoms that can possibly be attributed to gluten intolerance or celiac disease:
Infertility and miscarriage
Fatty liver disease
Migraines and headaches
Chemical imbalances, mood swings, depression
Gas and bloating or symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
Diarrhea or constipation
Fatigue/lack of energy
Joint pain/bone pain
Eczema or psoriasis
Autoimmune diseases such as, lupus, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, diabetes
***Many children on the autism spectrum greatly benefit from a gluten-free/casein-free diet due to the medical issues that usually accompany ASD.
How does someone get or develop gluten intolerance or food intolerances?
I have read and heard a number of research reports and although the research is still in its infant stage, there is now enough evidence that supports gluten sensitivity, or intolerance, as a distinct entity that may have a significant impact on someone’s health. According to Alessio Fasano, MD (Woodward, 2011), the reactions someone has to gluten are on a spectrum, including three main conditions: celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, and wheat allergy. It is important to be under the care of a knowledgeable health care practitioner in order to find proper diagnosis and treatment.
Below are the three main theories I have found for explaining gluten and/or food intolerances:
According to the research of Dr. Fine of Enterolab, there is a specific gene identified as an indicator for increasing the probability of developing gluten intolerance. Those carrying two copies of the gene have a greater chance of developing gluten intolerance than someone with only one copy. In his research, he estimates that as many as 30-40% of the American population is gluten sensitive; this includes the 1% of the population with celiac disease. The gene is then triggered with poor diet or other lifestyle choices.
Another theory that is prevalent is that food intolerances can be developed as a result of trauma or illness or as a secondary reaction to gluten intolerance. Symptoms may include those listed above and can usually be suppressed by following a diet free of the allergen for an extended period of time, usually from 6-12 months. During this time, additional supplementation may be provided to aid in the healing of the gut. The allergen can then be reintroduced in small amounts to check for a reaction. If symptoms are present, it is recommended that a diet free of the allergen be followed in order to prevent future damage. Otherwise, it may be concluded that the intestine has healed and the food may be reintroduced to the diet.
Another possible reason for the increase in food intolerances, more specifically gluten intolerance, is the presence of more gluten found in wheat. Over time, wheat has been modified to have more gluten, which allows for greater elasticity in the food. Although this is preferable for taste and texture reasons, the wheat that we are now eating is significantly different than that which our ancestors ate. In the simplest of explanations, our food is changing quicker than our bodies are able to adapt. At the end of the day, our body is no longer recognizing what we call food as food. From GMOs to the addition of synthetic herbicides and pesticides, hormones, and antibodies, I believe this may be why there is an overall increase in our reactions to other top allergens, such as soy and dairy. Some gluten sensitive individuals have claimed to be able to eat breads made in Europe without any symptoms due to the lower gluten content.
How do I know if I have gluten intolerance?
If you suspect a reaction to gluten or other foods, consider eliminating gluten from your diet for at least four weeks. Be careful to avoid any foods that may be cross contaminated with gluten as well. You may undergo a period of “withdrawal” during this time, so be prepared for a couple of challenging days. Keep a journal throughout the month to note any positive changes in sleep patterns, energy levels, etc. At the end of the month, reintroduce a small bit of gluten and observe any adverse reactions. If you have bowel discomfort or a return of the above symptoms, eliminate for an extended period of time or indefinitely.
If you prefer to be tested for celiac, request a celiac panel or endoscopy and small tissue biopsy. If negative, a blood test you may consider is by Cyrex Laboratories, Array 4. It will test for gluten intolerance, along with an array of cross-reactive foods, such as soy, dairy, oats, coffee, chocolate, etc. You will need to go through a healthcare practitioner for a requisition and test kit. A stool test that checks for the specific antibodies to gluten, casein (milk), soy, eggs, and yeast in the intestine along with a genetic panel is by Enterolab. This test is a bit more expensive but available without a doctor’s requisition. It is, however, recommended that you seek the advice of a knowledgeable healthcare practitioner.
If you are gluten intolerant, confirmed by an elimination diet or lab tests, it is important to completely eliminate gluten, and possibly casein and soy, until your healthcare practitioner deems it safe to reintroduce (if ever). It takes over 8 months for all gluten-induced reactions in the body to fully subside and any healing that takes place can be instantly reversed if reintroduced prematurely. If autoimmune conditions are present, gluten can have a hazardous effect on the body overall.
Why hasn’t my doctor heard of gluten intolerance?
As I mentioned previously, the research in food intolerances is still in its infant stage. According Alessio Fasano, MD (Woodward, 2011), celiac is much like a deja vu. He states, “The patients, as usual, were visionary, telling us this stuff existed but healthcare professionals were skeptical. The confusion surrounding gluten sensitivity–testing, biomarkers, is exactly the same confusion we had around celiac disease 30 years ago (p.58-59). It is just a matter of time before the medical community recognizes the connection between food intolerances and specific symptoms. Unfortunately, I do not believe this will occur until we move past the search for the perfect drug and replace it with building better health from the inside out.”
I do want to say that there are a lot of misconceptions presently in the medical community and ultimately, it is up to each individual to do his/her own research in order to take responsibility for his/her health. In The G-Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide, by Elizabeth Hasselbeck (2009), she shares that in other countries, such as Australia, Italy, and Ireland, 30-40% of people with celiac disease are diagnosed usually within a year of the first appearance of symptoms. In the United States, the number is less than 5% and usually takes an average of 9-11 years to diagnose (p. 13, 18).
This is because the pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. drive 80% of the funding for medical research along with providing money for postgraduate education. Dr. Weil (Hasselbeck, 2009) states, “A general problem in our culture, and I think it’s both that people don’t have the information and motivation to take responsibility for their well-being, and that the system is economically locked into paying for interventions with drugs, not for lifestyle counseling. The whole system is dysfunctional. . . In general, we’re so locked into using pharmaceuticals to treat everything that when we come across conditions that we can’t treat with drugs, we tend to pay less attention to them (p. 19).”
Can gluten intolerance be cured?
According to most healthcare practitioners, gluten intolerance cannot be cured, but the symptoms associated with it can be minimized or eliminated by following a gluten-free diet. In homeopathy, however, the Banerji Protocols have proven successful for eliminating food intolerances over time. This class by Joette Calabrese has more information about the specific protocols. Other natural therapies to consider for the elimination or reduction of food intolerances include Low Dose Antigen therapy and NAET. See a licensed practitioner for more information.
Dr. W. K. Crooks, personal communication, 2010-2011.
Hasselbeck, E. (2009).Â The G-Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide.Â New York, NY: Center Street Hachette Book Group.
Woodward, A. (2011). “The latest on gluten sensitivity and celiac disease.”Â Living Without TheÂ Magazine for People with Allergies and Food Sensitivities, 58-59.