Ask Dr. Scott – Gluten allergy, what should I do?

Dear Dr. Scott,

I suspect that I have gluten sensitivity. I’ve read about this condition and have had severe allergies all my life and suffer brutal reactions to many foods. Can you tell me more about this?

A: You’ve been very brave! No single human allergy can cause more neurological dysfunction than gluten, the protein found in wheat. Gluten sensitivity (“wheat allergy”) means your immune system has an exaggerated response to gluten that leads to inflammation throughout the body and potentially to an autoimmune reaction, in which the immune system attacks and destroys body and even brain tissue. Many people with uncontrolled food allergies like yours have silent celiac disease, meaning they do not experience intestinal symptoms. Instead, the immune system’s reaction to gluten is experienced in your skin, joints, and your organs and brain.

There have been dramatic increases in the number of gluten sensitive people in the United States in the past 50 years. The average American today eats wheat at every single meal. What’s worse, the immune response to gluten can last up to 6 months each time it is ingested. It is estimated that 81% are predisposed to gluten intolerance, and 43% of Americans to celiac disease (which is only the final stage of gluten intolerance). (Kharrazian, 2010).

Tragically gluten sensitivity is often overlooked by the health care system. It may be that you’ve been treated improperly for decades because your physicians have not diagnosed this autoimmune condition going on in you. Physicians are not trained to identify gluten sensitivity and are still operating with outdated models of celiac disease diagnosis. The criteria for diagnosing celiac disease are very limited. 

According to a recent paper in Lancet Neurology (2010), called The Gluten Syndrome: A Neurological Disease, gluten sensitivity is not primarily associated with celiac disease or gut damage and can solely and directly harm the brain and nervous system, leading to a number of different neurological problems. What this means to you is that if one of your ‘brutal reactions’ to foods that you described involves your brain, an immune assault due to gluten may be the cause. This will lead to brain inflammation and increase the risk for an autoimmune attack on brain tissue. In cases of gluten sensitivity the immune system mistakes nervous tissue for gluten. This is called cross-reactivity, a concept in immunology in which the immune system mistakes one protein for another – the protein structure of gluten is similar to protein structures in the brain and central nervous system. Other foods that commonly cross-react with gluten include casein (the dairy protein), yeast, oats, sesame, and some brands of instant coffee. Many clinicians find removing casein, the protein molecule in all forms of dairy, is also integral to restoration of health in people with wheat allergies.

The best test is the elimination-provocation diet in which gluten is completely removed from the diet for 2 weeks, and then re-introduced while the person monitors her reactions. It is not uncommon to see major resolution of many symptoms just by following a gluten-free diet. I have seen many patients with depression, suicidal tendencies, psychosis, psoriasis, eczema, memory loss, immune system weakness and chronic fatigue all improve within 2 weeks of going on a gluten-free diet. Additionally many people find that as their health improves they actually love their new way of eating and how good their better food choices taste and make them feel. 

Blood, saliva, or stool test that screen for immune antibodies to gluten are the established methods for identifying gluten sensitivity. Most doctors screen for gluten sensitivity using blood tests, but saliva tests have shown great promise in terms of their reliability.  (Pastore, 2008) In our practice, we place gluten in the mouth of patients with gluten sensitivity which creates immediate weakness in previously strong muscles: the method of non-invasive, reliable, and inexpensive gluten diagnosis in applied kinesiology.

Gluten sensitivity and gluten-free diets have become very popular today. Many grocery stores have gluten-free sections, and they make up a large part of the aisle in health food stores. The numbers of gluten-free books, blogs, and on line products has exploded. Countless practitioners around the country are continually reporting on the profound therapeutic effect a strict gluten-free diet has upon all types of allergic and neurological disorders. 

The end of a very long and painful health picture may be just ahead for you! Any program of health care must include consideration of food allergies. The elimination-and-challenge technique is the most reliable and cost-effective and it also teaches you how to identify your own food allergies and empowers you to take an active and on-going role in your health care. Find a holistic physician who can test you for gluten sensitivity…based on your health history, it may make a profound difference to your entire life.

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