Gluten sensitivity is the next epidemic. Most physicians are familiar with celiac disease and the digestive issues associated with gluten sensitivity, but the vast majority of doctors not familiar with many of the other symptoms, especially the non-digestive symptoms that can be caused by gluten.
It's estimated that 18 million people suffer from gluten sensitivity, and those are the people who have figured it out. There is still an enormous number of people walking around with a gluten sensitivity and they have absolutely no idea. I suspect that 1 in 2 people has an issue with gluten. In my functional medicine clinic, I test all of my patients for gluten sensitivity, and about 95% of them have some issue with gluten.
Most people with gluten sensitivity have no digestive symptoms at all. In 2002, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine was able to link 55 chronic diseases to gluten. I often get asked, if gluten can cause this many health issues, why don't more physicians know about this?
When something new is discovered in medicine it can take an average of 17 years for this new information to make its way into medical schools and clinical practice. Much of the research surrounding gluten sensitivity is not 17 years old—in fact we're just now beginning to scratch the surface in understanding gluten's role in many diseases.
We do know that gluten sensitivity lies on a spectum. On one end there is no issue with gluten and one can eat all the pasta and pizza they want. I don't really recommend this for anyone as gluten is a very inflammatory food, however in theory one has no issue with gluten and can eat as much as they want. On the other end of the spectrum is celiac disease, an autoimmune disease in which even trace amounts of gluten can have devastating consequences to the person consuming it. Everyone else falls somewhere on the spectrum in between the two extremes. One could be one step away from no issue with gluten or one step towards celiac disease.
Non-Digestive Gluten Sensitivity Warning Signs
These are only a few of the possible warning signs of gluten sensitivity. For a more complete list, click here.
1. Migraines and headaches
Food sensitivities are known to cause headaches and migraines, and gluten is no different in that respect. A recent study showed that 56% of people who had been diagnosed with migraine headaches actually had an underlying gluten sensitivity. After removing gluten from their diet and adopting a gluten-free lifestyle, their migraines resolved.
2. Brain fog
Gluten contains gluteomorphines that can act like morphine in some people causing brain fog. Gluten can also attack the brain, causing inflammation, leading to brain fog.
Gluten can cause a leaky gut and disrupt your ability to absorb certain vital nutrients like B vitamins, iron, vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids and zinc. These nutrients are essential for mood and brain health.
4. Joint pain
The body attacks the gluten and forms immune complexes that can settle in the joints causing swelling, pain and inflammation.
5. Skin rashes
These are all just inflammatory conditions of the skin. Outward manifestations if you will of the inflammation going on deeper inside your body.
How to test for gluten sensitivity
There are two tests that I use in my clinic to determine if a patient has a gluten sensitivity.
1. Blood tests
There are several blood tests available to test for gluten sensitivity; however most conventional doctors have not adopted this testing. Most conventional doctors are still only testing for celiac disease, which is why I recommend finding a functional medicine physician in order to be tested for gluten sensitivity.
2. Do at-home gluten elimination challenge
I also have my patients do a very simple at-home test. (I recommend this one.) You stop eating gluten 100% for two week and see if you feel better off of gluten or worse when you add it back in. If you feel better without gluten or worse when you add gluten back in, then you likely have a gluten sensitivity.
I encourage all of my patients to remove gluten from their diets completely. Even though the outward manifestation of eating gluten might appear mild, your immune system is being stimulated underneath the surface, and the effects can last for three to six months.
For many, simply removing 100% of gluten from their diet isn’t enough. Many people still need to repair the damage that gluten has caused in their gut. Additionally, I often find that there are other infections in the gut such as parasites, Candida, bacterial overgrowth, and bacterial imbalances that need to be addressed and corrected. For some, there may be a need to go completely grain-free due to the cross reactivity of non-gluten grains.
When in doubt, go without. You’re not missing any vital nutrients by not eating gluten. In fact, you may be saving your life or the life of someone you love.