By Ronald R. Parks, MD
It has been estimated that 8% of the population in the United States has some form of auto-immunity, and probably a much larger percentage has some form of environmentally related sensitivity illness. Autoimmune disorders occur ten times more commonly in gluten caused celiac disease than in the general population. In people with gluten triggered celiac disease, the mortality rate for cardiovascular disease was increased by 60%.
In people with autoimmune disease or severe gluten intolerance, there could be an association or increase risk of conditions: as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, primary biliary cirrhosis, type 1 diabetes and possibly many other inflammatory related illnesses — which could include heart disease, cancer, skin disorders, and mental illness as depression and schizophrenia.
It is being found that celiac disease is just the tip of the iceberg, representing a much smaller percentage of the many diseases occurring outside of the bowel where there is the need to suspect gluten sensitivity. This has led to the association of gluten intolerance and triggered auto-immunity to many other conditions that occurred even in the absence of any bowel or celiac problems. This includes the many varieties of autoimmune disorders; and behavioral, emotional, learning, developmental, psychiatric, neurological, cognitive dysfunctions and constitutional problems — such as diabetes mellitus type I, dermatitis herpetiformis, alopecia, Sjögren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroiditis, auto immune hepatitis, psoriasis, irritable bowel syndrome and microscopic colitis.
It is felt that a number of autoimmune diseases or inflammatory conditions can be triggered by gluten in the diet. One example would be the common cause of hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which is felt to be an autoimmune disease with gluten as a trigger — thyroid autoimmune disease is one of the most frequent autoimmune diseases in our population. Celiac disease is the autoimmune condition that affects our intestines, destroying the absorptive micro-villi, which leads to malabsorption of food, diarrhea and severe related health problems — when gluten is removed from the diet, this condition generally completely resolves.
Wheat, barley and rye are the main grains that contain gluten. Oats often are exposed to, or contaminated by, other gluten grains; only oats that are labeled as gluten free are safe for gluten intolerant people. Dairy and foods with added yeast can sometimes be a problem for gluten intolerant people. Gluten can be a contaminant in many of the foods we eat, especially processed foods. It is important to read food labels and to be careful with processed foods if you need to avoid gluten. Due to many factors which have led to the deterioration in modern grains — that have come about from hybridization or genetic modification, and possibly other factors as compared to the original ancient grains — the gluten proteins in many people can cause sensitivity, autoimmune disease, celiac disease and a number of inflammatory related illnesses that are common in our population.
Widespread problems with gluten are felt to be related to these facts: more wheat is being eaten than ever, hybridized wheat contains more gluten than previous generations of grains, immune stimulation from many other sources in our modern society are additive, and other digestive issues along with gluten increase food sensitivities.
Implementation of a gluten-free diet can result in significant improvement or reversal in a number of common illnesses and diseases. A gluten-free diet is difficult as gluten is in most processed foods, foods that aren’t labeled correctly, restaurant meals prepared by others, medications, supplements, hygiene products, inhaled flour and cross-contamination of grains. Although it is a challenge, it is a must — if you are identified as being gluten reactive — to be on an anti-inflammatory diet to avoid severe progressive and possibly life-threatening illness.
If there are suspected problems with soy, corn, eggs, other grains, legumes, night shades or other foods; screening or testing can be done to see if sensitivity or reactivity to these also exists and elimination of offenders can be done as necessary. The diet would then be centered around the non-acid fruits, vegetables, soaked nuts, seeds, healthy vegetable fats, healthy lean meats such as salmon or turkey, and foods eaten in a natural state as much as possible, avoiding processed food, any foods that contain gluten grains or other foods to which you have been shown to be sensitive.
In his review, Kenneth D. Fine, MD, reported that historically it was felt that the health consequences of eating grain has led to people becoming shorter, osteopenic and arthritic; that grass — especially wheat — is poorly digested by the human gut as indigestible peptides, which are small protein units, causing immune problems that lead to gut inflammation, celiac disease, systemic auto immunity and autoimmune diseases. Many gluten triggered illnesses do not show up in the gut; even if bowel symptoms are present, a small bowel biopsy by a gastroenterologist will often fail to show the abnormalities found in celiac disease, resulting in patients being told that they do not have a gluten problem.
Gluten sensitivity genes are common in the population and most people presenting with medical problems should be screened, including those who have female infertility, peripheral neuropathy, seizure disorders, autism, diabetes mellitus type I and possibly type II, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome, lupus, asthma, osteoporosis, iron deficiency, digestive or intestinal problems as recurrent diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome, alcoholism, any autoimmune disease including autoimmune thyroid disease, or any psychiatric illness as depression.
As reactivity to gluten is common in our population, it is very worthwhile to screen for antibodies to gluten or do genetic testing to show predisposition for gluten reactivity; genetic testing is available by doing a cheek swab. In conditions that haven’t responded to usual measures or interventions, it is very well worth screening for gluten reactivity using blood or stool tests to search for antibodies if you have suspected gluten sensitivity. With positive tests, especially if you detect antibodies early, you can proceed toward interventions by eliminating dietary gluten, preventing years of clinical illness due to gluten related conditions from occurring.
With proper education and perseverance, one can be successful with a gluten-free anti-inflammatory diet.
This material came from part of a lecture by Tom O’Brien, DC, CC and DACBN whose web site is www.theDr.com, and also from part of a second presentation by Kenneth D. Fine, M. D. who is the founder director of the Intestinal Health Institute and director of enterolab.com. Clinical Laboratory in Dallas, Texas. For a summary about gluten and gluten testing go to his web site EnteroLab.com.