Gluten Sensitivity — Fact, Fiction or Hype?

There is a lot of attention and talk about “Gluten Free” these days. It has become vogue to go gluten free as part of a healthier lifestyle. Going gluten free has been touted as a way to boost energy, lose weight, decrease joint pains, reduce headaches and even help with ADHD.  As a doctor, I am often asked if there really is a gluten issue with that many people. Is there something to this gluten free sensation or just clever advertising to promote new products??  Well, it is a very good question and in my opinion, the answer is YES, Gluten sensitivity is real.  First off, it is important to understand what gluten is and where it comes from. Gluten is essentially the protein part of whole wheat and other related grain species . The word Gluten comes from Latin’s word “glue”. So if you are eating foods made of wheat such as breads or pastas, then you are eating gluten. However, Gluten is also used in MANY products as an additive. This is where I think some of the problems start to occur. Remember, the word Gluten comes from the Latin word glue, so it is very “sticky” and is used in food manufacturing as a thickening agent. Gluten is in many places you may not think it would be. Some of these places are; beer, dairy products, sausages, lunch meats, salad dressings, chewing gum and candies, just to name a few.  It is darn near impossible NOT to encounter gluten since gluten is in most every food and products. It is easy to see that we are bombarded with gluten and this may cause uneasy symptoms in the digestion system. But don’t let that freak you out. There are different categories to the gluten related problems.

1. Celiac Disease; this is a diagnosed autoimmune disease in which a patient CANNOT tolerate gluten as it will cause inflammation and damage to the lining of the small intestine. This can impair the absorption of nutrients causing weight loss and a host of other conditions relating to poor nutrient uptake. The symptoms of Celiac disease are not light, they are intense and can be very debilitating. Symptoms include severe stomach pain and bloating, diarrhea, fatigue, depression and weight loss. This is a serious health condition that requires professional care. It is estimated 3 million people suffer from celiac disease. People with Celiac disease should avoid gluten at all times.

2. Gluten Intolerance; can cause symptoms very similar to Celiac Disease of severe stomach pains, bloating, diarrhea, fatigue and weight loss. However, gluten intolerance patients do not show the damage to the small intestinal lining that is found in Celiac disease patients. People with Gluten intolerance should also avoid gluten foods and products. If someone is having severe symptoms after eating gluten foods it is best to be evaluated by a doctor for possible Celiac Disease. Even if Celiac disease is ruled out, Gluten intolerant individuals are advised to remove gluten from their diet.

3. Gluten Sensitive: Clinically, this is the category I commonly see on a daily basis. Gluten sensitive people do not have the severe symptoms that Celiac Disease and Gluten Intolerance people experience, however they just don’t feel great after a gluten laced meal. Remember, eating is suppose to give you nutrients, energy, comfort and a feeling of well-being, not make you feel like crud. If you experience bloating, headaches, nausea, loose stools, the weight gain/weight loss roller coaster or other feelings of unpleasantness after eating, you may have a gluten sensitivity. Since gluten is in most every “conventional” food, try mixing things up for a couple weeks. Try to avoid gluten based foods and look for “gluten-free” foods at the market. There are many gluten free foods available which include; gluten free breads, pastas made of quinoa and brown rice, delicious desserts, beers and cereals. Whole Foods Market has little “gluten free” signs on the shelf to identify gluten free foods. If you do in fact, feel better by reducing or eliminating gluten from your diet then you most likely have a sensitivity to gluten.

To summarize the Gluten Sensitivity — Fact, Fiction or Hype?  I am sure there is some hype to the “Gluten Free” marketing campaign as there is always marketing to promote anything popular….remember the Pet Rock?? (ingenious actually). However, trying new foods is always a good idea and diversifying your diet to include more fresh, unprocessed, whole foods each day will help you on your road to better health. For instance the photo at the top of this post is DocEmerson’s Gluten-Free Tempeh Wrap using a gluten-free tortilla. Sooooooo good!!!!!!!!  You can easily substitute gluten-free breads, pastas, tortillas, desserts and even beverages into your usual recipes and meals with no loss of taste or goodness.

That is the premise of my book Eat Your Ass Off…literally. We must eat our way to better health.  I have many recipes that are gluten free or can be made gluten free without much effort with very simple substitutions.