In an issue of Gastroenterology & Endoscopy News, October 2010, Vol: 61:10 an article was published titled: “Gluten Sensitivity Baffles Celiac Disease Specialists”. The article begins with a case study that is similar to so many of the hundreds of patients who come through our doors every year. A woman in her late 30's was interviewed who had been suffering from poor health since she was a small child. From diarrhea to canker sores, from rashes to asthma, and from migraines to debilitating fatigue, there weren't too many systems in her body that weren't complaining.
As we too often hear from our patients, she saw many specialists including gastroenterologists who tested her for celiac disease on more than one occasion, only to assure her that that was not her problem.
Equally troubling, yet all too common, she related: “It’s humiliating to go from doctor to doctor and be told, ‘You’re just stressed out; you should see a psychiatrist.’ ” Guess what the psychiatrist is going to prescribe? That’s correct, a dangerous antidepressant that has a potential side effect of suicide and is less effective than a placebo – research supported.
I can’t tell you how common such a scenario is. Continuing to educate both the lay public and the professional is our only way out of all this needless suffering.
Dr Peter Green had this to say: “If a patient comes in and says he or she has gluten sensitivity, most doctors probably think, ‘Where’s the psychiatrist?’ There’s nothing taught about it and it’s not a currently measurable thing”. “A few celiac [disease] experts initially rolled their eyes and said, ‘We don’t get into that. There’s enough work to do to increase the diagnosis of celiac disease without including this condition that’s harder to define.’ But pressure is now on because the public is aware of it.”
Now that quote is music to my ears. “The pressure is now on because the public is aware of it” – that’s exactly what drives me to write and lecture as much as I do - I want you to be aware of this. And I want you to pressure your doctor, because for the most part, they don’t know this data. We were compelled to write our book “The Gluten Effect” after treating hundreds of patients whose health problems resolved after eliminating gluten but who were not celiac. Prior to our book, no other published book had addressed this issue and the major celiac researchers were not discussing it. We were gratified to see the shift in awareness occur when our book was published.
Why don’t psychiatrists and neurologists know that the most common system that gluten affects IS the nervous system? Why aren't they aware of the great numbers of research studies that have proven this beyond a shadow of a doubt?
In the article mentioned above, Dr Fasano cited studies showing that gluten sensitivity is more common among persons with schizophrenia. Dr. Fasano, along with colleagues, published a study showing that 23% of over 1,400 schizophrenics had moderate to high levels of antigliadin antibodies (a test showing that the body’s immune system considers gluten a toxin) compared with 3% of controls. That is almost an 8-fold increase. Furthermore, a variety of studies have noted a drastic reduction, if not full remission, in symptoms of schizophrenia after initiating a gluten-free diet. (Kalaydjian AE et al. Acta Psychiatr Scand 2006;113:82-90).
A study published in 2010 demonstrated that the immune response to reducing gluten in schizophrenic patients differs from that of celiac disease (Samaroo D et al. Schizophrenia Research 2010;118:248-255). In fact it has been found in some studies that celiac disease is not significantly more common in schizophrenics than in the general public, but gluten sensitivity is, and dramatically so. Yet in the past schizophrenics would have been told that gluten wasn't a problem for them because they didn't have celiac disease, much like millions of people suffering with gluten sensitivity.
I think you will agree that there is plenty of evidence here about a disease that has baffled doctors for generations. Has anything as natural as changing one’s diet EVER been put forth as a cure for schizophrenia? If you had a relative or good friend with schizophrenia would you want to know this information? How about if that friend had depression or anxiety or migraines or one of the over one hundred symptoms associated with gluten sensitivity?
In the woman whom we initially discussed in this article, it took a friend to diagnose her. The patient states that she turned to the internet to find out more about this condition and decided to give up gluten to see if it would help. Her symptoms improved. As a matter of fact, she stated that the improvement was “life changing”. Once again, a scenario we hear often.
The article mentioned that “although estimates vary about the true prevalence of gluten sensitivity, the highest figures suggest about 15% to 20% of the population”. As research into gluten sensitivity is still in its infancy, we don’t yet have hard numbers on its incidence. But I would agree that it’s at least 15-20% of the population.
Dr Kelly, professor of medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston was quoted as saying: “I wish I knew why [the sudden increase]. I think it’s due in part to better awareness. However, having said that, there is no question that there are more people with gluten sensitivity today.” “My own suspicion is that components of gluten-containing foods are relatively indigestible, but that’s only speculation.” Actually it’s not speculation.
There is plenty of evidence to show that our ability to digest gluten-containing foods is not adequate, for any of us. Why then doesn't everyone react? Remember that the healthier the body, the better able it is to “turn off” inflammatory reactions, plus it appears that 60% of our population are in the luck category of not possessing the gene(s) for celiac disease. How many possess genes for gluten sensitivity remains to be seen, but we do know that the percentage carrying celiac genes is 40%. There is strong evidence showing that the incidence of celiac increases with age, so there are definitely more and more people suffering – well above the 1% so often stated in the literature. It factually rises to 4 or 5% with increasing age. Unfortunately this means that just because you don’t react to gluten now is no assurance that you won’t later in life.
As regards who is at risk, once again we hear from Dr Fasano: “We now know that kids are only a small portion of the celiac population, that every ethnicity is at risk and that most frequently these people present with symptoms that have nothing to do with the GI tract”. “What is clear to us now [is that] there is this big family of gluten sufferers—people of all shapes and sizes and symptoms who suffer several forms of gluten intolerance, including celiac disease, wheat allergy and gluten sensitivity.”
So should we eat gluten until it becomes obvious that we have a problem? No, I wouldn't recommend that. Early testing when the body “knows” there’s a problem, but before symptoms are too troubling is ideal. Why? It could save your life. Read on…
Mounting evidence shows that gluten sensitivity is associated with a higher risk for mortality from most causes. Specifically a study of over 13,000 patients in Ireland showed higher mortality rates among gluten-sensitive individuals. Rates of all-cause mortality were significantly higher in gluten-sensitive patients compared with the healthy population. (Anderson et al. World Journal Gastroenterology 2007;13:146-151).
The article ends with this admonition: “Experts are putting the call out to gastroenterologists to educate themselves about the spectrum of gluten-related disorders. They ask specialists to thoroughly work up their patients with suspected gluten sensitivity and/or celiac disease and to perform biopsies and blood tests when appropriate.”
I concur. Please help me to spread the word. Being healthy and having an optimally functioning body should be a birth right. Eating food that is nourishing and not acting as a “poison” should be a choice that everyone has available to them. Though at times it is difficult, those of us who eschew (avoid) gluten and enjoy good health will tell you that it is completely worth it.
Let me know how I can be of further assistance. If you are wondering if you or someone you care about is suffering from gluten intolerance, please consider calling us for a free health analysis (408-733-0400) – we are here to help!
If you don’t live locally that’s not a problem – our Destination Clinic sees patients from across the country and internationally.
To your good health,
Dr Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN
Founder of HealthNOWMedical Center
Co-author of “The Gluten Effect”Author of the e-Book: “Gluten Intolerance – What you don’t know could be killing you!”