Thursday, December 31, 2009

Gluten Sensitivity Diagnosis is Accepted

It is December 31st so a little reflection is in order. 2009 was a big year for us personally as it was the year that the dream of publishing our book reached fruition.

“The Gluten Effect” was a combined labor of love and passionate mission. As clinicians we literally stumbled upon gluten 15 years ago as we analyzed patients for food reactions. As more and more patients were discovered to be sensitive we were literally amazed at the panoply of reactions associated with these supposed “innocent” and “healthy” grains.

We were initially taken aback that no one else seemed to be discussing this. Our gluten sensitive patients, for the most part, were not celiac sufferers. But they were certainly reacting to gluten and it was affecting them from their digestive tract to their nervous system to their hormonal balance to their joints. Were we hallucinating these reactions? Was there some placebo affect occurring?

I still remember so clearly discussing gluten with a mentor of mine about 8 years ago. He is a highly respected individual in the field of functional medicine and positively brilliant. I somewhat shyly proposed that he investigate gluten and gave a brief overview what I and my team were experiencing clinically. Ever the gracious gentleman, he was polite and attentive but I could tell from his reaction that he didn’t consider gluten to be a legitimate health issue.

Yet barely three years after that meeting he spoke for the first time about gluten at a national conference. Not that I needed his blessing, but if felt good to have someone I so respected begin to see what I was seeing.

About 2 ½ years ago while in the throes of writing “The Gluten Effect” with my co-author, we began to feel like renegades as we came to the realization that despite all the scientific research that we had to hand that supported our work, most of our fellow clinicians were completely unaware of it.

We braced ourselves for some disbelief and opposition.

About that same time I spoke to a leader of a national celiac group. This individual is absolutely passionate about educating Americans about celiac disease and decreasing the amount of time that it takes to receive a diagnosis. But when I discussed gluten sensitivity with her, she really had absolutely no information about it.

A mere year later she was completely on board due to some personal experiences she had with people close to her. They were ill, not celiac, but removing gluten from their diet completely resolved their health issues. She was convinced but what ensued was some infighting with traditional MDs who worked within her organization. She even had her grant money threatened for a period of time.

The happy ending is that, fortunately, scientific research caught up with the clinical observations we were witnessing in our patients and gluten sensitivity was validated this year from many previously skeptical experts including Dr Peter Green and Dr Alessio Fasano.

So while that “war” is over there are many battles ahead. We still have a traditional medical community that thinks celiac disease is impossible unless a patient has unrelenting diarrhea and is severely underweight. These clinicians believe that an intestinal biopsy is still the gold standard for diagnosis and that without complete obliteration of the intestinal villi, gluten can’t possibly be a problem for a patient.

On the other hand, research just came out in the British Journal of Nutrition whereupon they analyzed a group of non-gluten sensitive individuals who expressed a much healthier balance of microflora (good bugs) in their intestines after a 30 day gluten-free diet than was present prior to going gluten-free.

Does this mean that gluten isn’t good for anyone? Is there something truly pro-inflammatory in these grains such that they spell ill health for all who consume them?

Or, if a truly healthy small intestine could be achieved would tolerance to gluten rise, as some researchers postulate? And is dairy the underlying culprit that causes the initial irritation thus “allowing” gluten to create its inflammatory effects?

And will all these questions be answered in the New Year?

I for one (and my team) are already diligently working on these issues and if the timing continues to occur as it has been, just about the time we feel confident in stating our findings, there will be ample scientific research to corroborate them.

I am very excited for 2010. I am anticipating meeting more of my readers as many have already come to visit our Destination Clinic from around the world this past year. We are expanding our clinic quite dramatically this year to better educate and treat all who seek better health.

As always, please let me know your thoughts and how I may help you.

To your good health in 2010!

Dr Vikki Petersen
Founder of HealthNOW Medical Center
Co-author of “The Gluten Effect

5 comments:

Laurie D. said...

Hi again,
This year was a blockbuster for me as far as improving health and learning about gluten. There is now an entire group of people on the web going "primal" - i.e., not eating any grains. I am now one of them and that seemed to be the last ingredient in the recipe to health. I invite you to look at my blog at http://foodforprimalthought.blogspot.com/

Don't look at it for my info - I just started the thing yesterday and it's probably pretty boring for most. But DO look at the links on the sidebar. Several of those are written by medical doctors - PaNu (Dr. Kurt Harris) , Eades, Heart Scan, Nephropal, etc. These are doctors who are on board and know the dangers of grains. Mark Sisson at MarksDailyApple has one of the best sites on the web on primal eating and exercise. Hey, I linked you too! :)

Have you read Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gart Taubes? I think it should be required reading by all doctors, nurses, nutritionists, etc. Amazing stuff!

Laurie

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

aw said...

Dr. Petersen, the second half of 2009 was a nightmare for me and your blog and other sites related to gluten research were so helpful for me. In July I went to a family doctor for the first time to get a general check-up. I was feeling great but figured that being a woman in my mid 30's it was time. Blood tests revealed I had elevated liver enzymes (AST/ALT only). The dr.'s first thought was fatty liver but ultrasound revealed that everything looked normal. I cut out all alcohol (would have a glass of red wine everynight) but my levels kept rising. He referred me to a specialist who thought I had subclinical autoimmune hepatitis even though the blood tests were negative for that.

In September, for a few weeks my mother was baking unusually frequently and I was eating a lot more baked goods than I normally do. By the end of that month my AST/ALT jumped a lot higher at which point the hepatologist thought I should have a liver biopsy. I asked him to test me for celiac disease. His first response was that I wasn't showing any signs of malabsorption. The test result was negative which upset me tremendously b/c I thought we had finally found the answer! I learned from your site and others about non -celiac gluten sensitivity which can cause liver problems also. When I mentioned this to the first specialist he said "but the enzyme levels don't jump so dramatically."

I did go to another dr. for a second opinion about the liver biopsy and he also thought I should have one. The biopsy showed mild inflammation with no known etiology. I decided to go gluten-free since that biopsy. 2 months later I had another blood test and just got the results yesterday and my enzyme levels are normal! I could not believe it. If I had let the doctors just do their jobs and not looked into this myself, I feel I'd be close to being on steroids which the first doc was leaning towards. I'm still in disbelief, that I'm wondering whether the lab mixed up my latest blood with someone else's!

Here's to 2010 and continued research and gluten awareness!

Justanordinaryweirdo said...

I just found your blog and it's wonderful, so affirming. I was ill for 3 1/2 years with gluten intolerance which started when I got pregnant with my 4th child- gained 10 stone in weight, developed asthma and various allergies, joint pains, dizziness and related nausea, clumsiness, sleeplessness, anxiety/ racing heart, numb/ tingly fingers and toes, needing to rush to the toilet, stomach tenderness, reflux, bloating, brain fog, crazy unstable blood sugar/ rampant hunger, dry eyes (MGD), felt exhausted and so on. It was a nightmare. My doctor did various blood tests and diagnosed depression and offered me antidepressants. I said no thanks.

Someone suggested I go off what to see if it helped my asthma. I went from needing ventolin several times a day to needing it rarely and started sleeping well and my waist shrank by 3 inches within days, no more heartburn... it was amazing! I took out all gluten and my life was changed.

I realised later I react to oats and corn as well so am now off those as well. I am still tired and seem to react to dairy too so now that is on the way out. I can now see I was reacting to gluten earlier in my life too, just more mildly, and the pregnancy for some reason kicked the symptoms up several notches. I hope that over the next few years I will be able to restore my health.

I am convinced that gluten is behind many of the health problems that plague our western culture and am so excited to find your blog!

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