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Gluten – is it really that bad?

Is gluten free just a passing fad?

Why does every second person seemingly have an intolerance to this little molecule found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt, triticale, kamut & oats?

There is evidence to argue the case that it’s all in our heads and it’s our expectation of discomfort from eating gluten that gives us tummy aches, bloated bellies and brain fog. There is however, stronger evidence for true gluten intolerance, allergy and of course – Celiac Disease (CD). You can’t argue with the latter.
Autoimmune diseases are on the rise and Celiac disease affects approximately 1 in 100 Australians, and 1% of the population worldwide, however most of us have not yet been tested. Detection rates are increasing and a prevalence study in Australia shows that more than half of the population are at risk of developing the condition (56% of us carry one gene for the disease). Having the gene doesn’t necessarily mean you will develop it but it does place you at high risk (and even higher if you have both genes).

These days we all know at least one person who has Celiac Disease right? And then a gaggle of friends who opt for GF when out at café’s or restaurant’s. If you’re like me you are stuck somewhere in the middle. You know you bloat and feel a bit crappy from gluten foods but it’s not all the time and you’ve tested negative for CD so you sway between strictly eliminating them and then having a gorge on them.

SO let’s way it all up and give you the tools to discover whether gluten is yay or nay for you.

There are many different types of responses you can have to gluten. These include…

  • Celiac disease autoimmunity
  • Non- celiac gluten sensitivity
  • Wheat allergy
  • Gliadin/gluten allergy or intolerance
  • Raised zonulin levels (showing gut damage)

 

What symptoms may gluten consumption cause?

Sometimes no symptoms at all or the individual may not have made the connection between what they are eating and how they feel. I often find that clients with asymptomatic Celiac Disease are used to feeling how they feel and only realise that they were tired and had brain fog when they come off the gluten and have a new sense of clarity.

More commonly though, the following are characteristic of gluten autoimmunity or sensitivity

  • IBS like symptoms
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • Bloating
  • Fatigue, lethargy
  • Chronic low iron and/B12 levels
  • Easy bruising
  • Low blood count (anaemia)
  • Weakness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Joint pain
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Skin itchiness/rashes
  • Recurrent mouth ulcers
  • Dermatitis 
  • Depression
  • Period pain
  • Thyroid malfunction
  • Unexplained Infertility

It is important to remember that many people have no symptoms. Some may have very mild or vague symptoms. You can’t see what gluten is doing to you in the intestines & the reaction in the blood so it’s easy to pass it off as not an issue. The above symptoms are due to years of chronic malabsorption of nutrients and of toxicity and inflammation crossing the damaged gut wall into circulation.

Seeing as half the population are at risk of developing Celiac Disease and the rest of us may be experiencing some level of sensitivity or intolerance then it’s best to just get the simple blood test done and explore further if you suspect gluten is still an issue despite a negative result.

Testing checklist

  • Celiac antibodies tested at the GP
  • Small intestine biopsy (if indicated)
  • Genetic test for Celiac Disease and Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
  • Immunoglobulin antibody food allergy test (also tests for 96 other foods)
  • Zonulin levels (a measure of leaky gut, intestinal wall damage)

The Celiac screen test is free and can be tested by any GP. You need to be eating a high gluten load for 6 weeks prior to the test. A small intestine biopsy will be arranged if your symptoms are strongly indicating CD or if antibodies are positive. If tested positive, testing stops here for you. If still not convinced, there are more specialised tests to look deeper…

The other tests are functional tests that only a Naturopath or Integrative doctor will send for. They are highly valuable and give you an individualised approach to gluten. You’ll understand the type of response you are having (or not), the implications for your health and options of how you may be able to offset some of its effects.

Some other important information about gluten foods…

  • Before grains were cultivated 10,000 years ago, humans lived on a naturally gluten free diet of meat, fruit and vegetables for hundreds of thousands of years. The world distribution of Celiac Disease seems to have followed the mankind wheat consumption and the migratory flows. Makes you think whether we were ever supposed to eat grains.
  • Even if you are not reacting to gluten (or you think you are not), wheat and other grain crops are laced with pesticides and weed killer chemicals such as glyphosates (round up). These are catastrophically toxic- a topic too big to go into right now. Look into it!
  • If you simply cannot fathom life without gluten foods, ask yourself why? What is your attachment to them? How do they make you feel? Gluten has an opioid like effect on the brain similar to heroin and other addictive drugs. Are you addicted to gluten? Do you have withdrawals and binges when trying remove or cut them down in your diet? (I’m raising my hand right now)
  • If you’re still not convinced to have the test and refuse to give up conventional bread, pasta and baked goods- at least go organic, opt for wholemeal and consider ancient grains such as spelt.
  • LADIES!!! If you have been experiencing difficulty falling pregnant or maintaining a pregnancy for no apparent reason, undiagnosed Celiac Disease may be at play. Insist on full investigation.


If you feel you need support through this investigation process, or are confused on how to go about a good gluten free diet please book in with me here.

Lauren Campbell (Naturopath)

 

Resources

Choi, J.M., Lebwohl, B., Wang, J., Lee, S.K., Murray, J.A., Sauer, M.V. and Green, P.H., 2011. Increased prevalence of celiac disease in patients with unexplained infertility in the United States: a prospective study. The Journal of reproductive medicine, 56(5-6), p.199.

Drago, S., El Asmar, R., Di Pierro, M., Grazia Clemente, M., Sapone, A.T.A., Thakar, M., Iacono, G., Carroccio, A., D’Agate, C., Not, T. and Zampini, L., 2006. Gliadin, zonulin and gut permeability: Effects on celiac and non-celiac intestinal mucosa and intestinal cell lines. Scandinavian journal of gastroenterology, 41(4), pp.408-419.

Dubé, C., Rostom, A., Sy, R., Cranney, A., Saloojee, N., Garritty, C., Sampson, M., Zhang, L., Yazdi, F., Mamaladze, V. and Pan, I., 2005. The prevalence of celiac disease in average-risk and at-risk Western European populations: a systematic review. Gastroenterology, 128(4), pp.S57-S67.

Fasano, A., Berti, I., Gerarduzzi, T., Not, T., Colletti, R.B., Drago, S., Elitsur, Y., Green, P.H., Guandalini, S., Hill, I.D. and Pietzak, M., 2003. Prevalence of celiac disease in at-risk and not-at-risk groups in the United States: a large multicenter study. Archives of internal medicine, 163(3), pp.286-292.

Fasano, Alessio, et al. “Zonulin, a newly discovered modulator of intestinal permeability, and its expression in coeliac disease.” The Lancet 355.9214 (2000): 1518-1519.

Gujral, N., Freeman, H.J. and Thomson, A.B., 2012. Celiac disease: prevalence, diagnosis, pathogenesis and treatment. World journal of gastroenterology: WJG, 18(42), p.6036.

Jackson, J.E., Rosen, M., McLean, T., Moro, J., Croughan, M. and Cedars, M.I., 2008. Prevalence of celiac disease in a cohort of women with unexplained infertility. Fertility and sterility, 89(4), pp.1002-1004.

Jewett, D.L., Fein, G. and Greenberg, M.H., 1990. A double-blind study of symptom provocation to determine food sensitivity. New England Journal of Medicine, 323(7), pp.429-433.

Kolho, K.L., Tiitinen, A., Tulppala, M., Unkila‐Kallio, L. and Savilahti, E., 1999. Screening for coeliac disease in women with a history of recurrent miscarriage or infertility. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 106(2), pp.171-173.

Mustalahti, K., Catassi, C., Reunanen, A., Fabiani, E., Heier, M., McMillan, S., Murray, L., Metzger, M.H., Gasparin, M., Bravi, E. and Mäki, M., 2010. The prevalence of celiac disease in Europe: results of a centralized, international mass screening project. Annals of medicine, 42(8), pp.587-595.

Nash, D.T. and Slutzky, A.R., 2014. Gluten sensitivity: new epidemic or new myth? Every major change in our diet carries with it the possibility of unforeseen risks.

Visser, J., Rozing, J., Sapone, A., Lammers, K. and Fasano, A., 2009. Tight junctions, intestinal permeability, and autoimmunity. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1165(1), pp.195-205.

Wang, W., Uzzau, S., Goldblum, S.E. and Fasano, A., 2000. Human zonulin, a potential modulator of intestinal tight junctions. Journal of cell science, 113(24), pp.4435-4440.

Xu, S.W., Islam, R. and Bhattacharya, A., 2017. Are Australian Regional Hospitals Doing Enough for Coeliac Disease Testing in 2012-2013? A Pilot Study.

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