The two major issues we have regarding gluten in this country are:
1. We are terrible at diagnosing celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Over 95-97% of those with celiac disease continue to suffer, with the number likely being much higher for gluten sensitivity.
2. When we finally DO diagnose either condition, the only treatment we offer is a gluten-free diet.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the only place to START is definitely with a strict gluten-free diet. What I take issue with is that being the ONLY recommendation.
Witness this comment from the mother of a child with celiac disease:
My 19 month old son was diagnosed with celiac in September 2012 at 13 months. I nursed him until 16 months when he self-weaned (too busy chasing his big brothers.) At the time of his diagnosis, his AST and ALT were quite high [these are liver enzymes]. We immediately went gluten free and his symptoms were better within 36 hours. He's been happily gluten free since Sept 2012. He has no real health issues since going gluten free, other than dry skin and mild rashes that a lot of celiacs experience even when off gluten.
Fast forward six months when we had his enzyme levels checked again this month. His ALT and AST were worse. The pediatric gastro had him tested for multiple things. Thus far, everything has come back negative, except the HLA molecular test for Celiac and lymphoma [a genetic test].
Let’s analyze this. Here we have a small child barely 2 years old with celiac disease. His mom says that ‘all’ his symptoms disappeared when beginning a gluten-free diet, except his dry skin and rashes, which she states that “a lot of celiacs experience”. What is concerning is elevated liver enzymes, showing some liver damage that is actually worsening despite a gluten-free diet.
Here’s my take on it:
1. It’s great that most symptoms improved but one cannot ignore the skin issues. Why? Because the skin is a reflection of colon health and his continuing skin issues mean that his gut isn’t healed – yes, he likely has a leaky gut.
2. What’s showing on the outside (his skin), is likely also being demonstrated on the inside (his liver). When a leaky gut persists, any autoimmune type reaction that occurred while the person was eating gluten can persist despite no gluten being ingested. Why? Because the immune system is on an ‘auto-destruct’, which is what autoimmune disease is.
3. What needs to be done is to heal the gut and normalize the immune system. This child could have infections in his gut that are migrating out through the leaky gut into the bloodstream and affecting his liver. Or, the immune system could just be continuing the liver ‘auto-destruct’ message that is originally received from gluten, but is now continuing because the leaky gut continues.
4. Another option is that the child is eating foods that are cross-reactive to gluten and that is continuing the autoimmune tendency. Finally, the child could also have a sensitivity to dairy products which is known to be highly anti-inflammatory.
The great news is that the child has been testing extensively and all the ‘scary’ diseases have been ruled out. Now we could just move forward with the above, very easy treatment, to truly reverse the situation before it becomes permanent and the child is left with a malfunctioning liver.
I hope this makes sense. It frustrates me no end that the secondary effects of gluten are not addressed more routinely. It could definitely save patients from many chronic diseases.
If you know someone who is gluten-free but is still not enjoying good health, please share this with them. We would also be happy to offer them a free health analysis – call 408-733-0400.
Our destination clinic treats patients from across the country and internationally, we are here to help!
To your good health,
Dr Vikki Petersen, DC, CCN
Founder of HealthNOW Medical Center
Co-author of “The Gluten Effect”
Author of the e-Book: “Gluten Intolerance: What you don’t know could be killing you!”