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Gluten free diet. Not just for Celiacs. Part 1

Gluten free diet is one of the buzz words in nutrition these days. There are shows, blogs, restaurants, magazine articles dedicated to helping people achieve  gluten-free diet nirvana. This is great news for those diagnosed with celiac disease but what about the non celiac person?  Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which the body mounts an immune response to the ingestion of gluten/gliadin containing foods. This results in the destruction of the lining of the small intestines.  However there are people who do not have celiac disease but instead have a condition called non celiac gluten sensitivity.

In my clinical practice, I am coming across an alarming number of people with non celiac gluten sensitivity. This condition is being picked up indirectly with a specialized blood test and an elimination diet protocol. People with non celiac gluten sensitivity can exhibit signs and symptoms that range from gas, bloating, fatigue, depression to migraines and joint pain.

Top 6 reasons to switch to a gluten-free diet

1. Autoimmune condition: Any person with an autoimmune/inflammatory condition can benefit from a gluten-free diet. Whether you have rheumatoid arthritis , fibromyalgia, lupus, or just generalized aches and pains,  a gluten-free diet may help alleviate your symptoms. Gluten is believed to be one of the major contributors to “leaky gut syndrome“. By eliminating gluten from your diet, you are giving your immune system a break.

2. Children: if you are a parent of a child suffering from hyperactivity, colic, headache, eczema, asthma, insomnia, diarrhea, then your child may have food intolerance/sensitivity. Wheat is one of the major food allergens for young children but unfortunately it is in everything which increases your child’s exposure to it. Even exclusively breastfed babies get food intolerance/sensitivities from their mother. If you eliminate gluten containing foods from your diet and your child’s health improves, then your child most likely has a difficult time digesting gluten containing foods.

3.  Weight loss: adopting a gluten-free diet is helpful when trying to lose weight for several reasons. A gluten-free diet ensures that you are eating more fruits and vegetables while decreasing consumption of foods that are higher on the glycemic index. Most people are able to reduce their caloric intake and eat more nutrient dense foods instead of low nutritional status foods such as whole wheat bagels, crackers, bread and pasta.

4.  Bladder conditions: I have seen patients with bladder/fecal incontinence, overactive bladder, interstitial cystitis improve significantly by eliminating gluten and other food intolerance from their diet. The reason is that for some people their allergic reaction to food occurs in the bladder not the respiratory or GI system. Some individuals who are allergic/sensitive to gluten may experience urinary frequency, urgency and bloating in addition to painful bladder syndrome.

6. Fertility: if your goal is to get pregnant, then you might want to go gluten-free before conception. Celiac’s disease has been linked to infertility, miscarriage, fetal growth problems and stillbirth. If you are suffering from any of these conditions, you may have undiagnosed celiac’s disease or non celiac gluten sensitivity.

The average person who is non celiac or gluten sensitive can benefit from adopting a gluten-free diet most of the time. By adopting a gluten-free diet, it enables you to replace your diet with more nutrient dense foods that will benefit your body. I usually advise patients to adopt the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of the diet is gluten-free while twenty percent of the diet is the occasional ingestion of gluten containing foods. Of course this rule does not apply to individuals with celiac disease who must abstain from gluten containing foods permanently.

There is however a caveat to all of this. The gluten-free industry is now a multi billion dollar machine. There are a lot of packaged products on the market that are just as nutritionally devoid as gluten filled ones. Most manufacturers utilize cheap starches that will not only ensure that you are carrying an extra spare tire or two around your midsection but can eventually lead to nutritional deficiencies and ill-health.

As always it is best to consult with a licensed naturopathic physician if you have any of the conditions mentioned above for specialized testing/assistance.

What is preventing you from trying a gluten-free diet?