Gassy and Bloated: Discussing Gluten & Celiac risk

Author: Dr. Gary Huber, DO

Date: Oct, 2008

Wheat = Gluten...which leads to intestinal inflammation that in the most severe form can lead to Celiacs disease which is an autoimmune disease and leads to other forms of autoimmune disease.

I don’t want to alarm you but good scientific studies are showing us that 30% of the general population already has a medical condition that often goes undetected for years.  This condition can lead to autoimmune diseases like:  rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, eczema, diabetes, Graves disease, and more.  This insidious villain exists in every home in America and it can easily be stopped IF you know how, where and what to look for.  This evil doer is named . . . WHEAT!!!  More specifically I’m talking about gluten sensitivity and Celiacs disease.  This topic can get very complex and get convoluted very quickly so allow me offer a few definitions to guide our discussion.

Wheat, rye, and barley all contain a naturally occurring protein called gluten.  Gluten is a combination of 2 proteins;  gliadin and glutenin.  For the purpose of our general discussion we can use these terms interchangeably so wheat = gluten = gliadin.  Gluten has the ability to make your intestines become “leaky”.  The cells that make up the lining of the intestines tend to pull away from each other when repeatedly exposed to gluten, allowing gaps to develop that allow food proteins to slip past our natural defenses (bowel wall) and into contact with the immune system that lies in abundance behind that bowel wall. This is not how the bowel is intended to operate and is made possible under the influence of heavy gluten loads. Todays wheat has 10 TIMES the amount of gluten that older wheat varieties contained. This creates inflammation and food allergies.  Celiacs disease is the full-blown end result of this process and causes our bowel lining to erode away leaving us ill equipped to absorb nutrients from our food.  The result of all of this bowel inflammation is a series of immune events that lead many Americans (1 out of every 12 and rising) to face an autoimmune disease like those mentioned above.  The symptoms can be as mild as having gas, or can be extreme such as severe diarrhea, spasm and cramping, and other bowel complaints.

Review: 

Wheat = Gluten

...which leads to intestinal inflammation that in the most severe form can lead to Celiacs disease which is an autoimmune disease and leads to other forms of autoimmune disease.  And just to be perfectly clear, so that there is no confusion, wheat or gluten is = bread, crackers, bagels, cereal, toast, pretzels, Twix bars, donuts, spaghetti, pasta, pizza crust, flour tortillas, cookies, cake, pie crust or any food item that has flour as it’s base.  But has it always been this way?  No.  Why is it more common now?  Excellent question, Scooter.  Why isn’t it diagnosed more easily since it is so common?  Lets discuss that.

The wheat of today is not the same stuff our grandparents ate.  Today’s wheat has been genetically altered and hybridized, leading to a product that contains 10 times more gluten than the wheat of 10 years ago.  This has been in the name of “agricultural and manufacturing progress” so that the grain is more stable, easier to work with and have longer shelf life.  Wheat has also been added to unlikely food items such as salad dressing, spaghetti sauce and ice cream as a thickening agent and is used in hundreds of other products which serves to boost your general consumption of this “super gluten”. 

What else is different today that sets us apart from our ancestors?  Toxins.  We are exposed to more toxic elements, at higher concentrations than ever before.  A child born today will have over 300 synthetic compounds in it’s body on the day of his birth.  Our bodies are assaulted by toxins in our water, air, food, clothing, vaccines, cleaning and grooming products that challenge our immune systems daily, resulting in an over active immune system that is less and less stable.  We gobble down Tums, Pepcid, Mylanta, Nexium and an assortment of other agents to ease the stress of our acidic lives.  The elevated pH in our stomach from these products leaves us ill equipped to breakdown the onslaught of gluten, which has become an irritant instead of a simple food product.  So we are left with the perfect storm:  a fragile immune system, stress hormones, gastric vulnerability and a pile of gluten that never ends. 

There is good news. We now have better stool tests than ever before to detect the earliest presence of this gluten sensitivity.  More importantly we now can easily and affordably test your genetics to see if you have the genes that make you susceptible to Celiacs disease.  Knowing this gene exists long before you develop Celiacs means you can make amendments to your diet that remove the risk of ever developing the Celiacs.

Food manufacturers are becoming sensitive to the demand for gluten free foods and are producing safe options in record numbers.  By removing gluten from your diet you are likely to experience the following:  less joint pain, fewer headaches or resolution all together, resolution of diarrhea and/or constipation, less irritability, improved blood sugar management and much more.  The long-term health benefits are endless.  If you have ever been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Crohns or ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel problems or ANY autoimmune disease of any kind then you need to get a stool test for anti-gliadin antibodies (IgA).  If you have had a blood test in the past that was reported as negative then please disregard it.  Blood tests are horrible at detecting gluten sensitivity or Celiacs disease.  Blood tests are not sensitive enough to reliably pick up gluten disease and only detect it when the disease has reached near total destruction of intestinal villi.  DO NOT rely upon a blood test to rule this issue out. If the blood test is positive then respect that finding but a negative test is not adequate to detect the disease in MOST individuals who suffer from it.

This can be a complicated issue to unravel so if you are struggling for answers then lets talk about more reliable tests that can be done or exploring your genetics to see if your are at an increased risk. Chelsea, the dietitian at HPM has walked hundreds of patients down this path and found solutions that work. Nutritional support to heal the lining of the gut is critical and trust me, we will find answers and get you on a solid path to recovery. There are always answers if you ask the right questions.