You might have read a column by a former colleague of mine Mia Freedman recently where she questioned people’s food intolerances, specifically gluten, and avoidance of certain foods, specifically sugar. Funnily, I’m both intolerant to gluten and had to quit sugar due to an autoimmune disease.
I was asked during Monday’s webinar for my thoughts. Which I shared. Sadly, it wasn’t saved (the webinar, that is…sorry!). And so I thought I’d post a more detailed response to some of the questions Mia asked, such as, Why so many intolerances? And, Why now? And, Really?
First up. I agree with this point: evangelists are painful. Sharing of information is good. Being your message is ace. And, always, doing your own thing is cool. But preaching does no one favours.
But as David Gillespie wrote during the week on Twitter in reaction to the column, most folk who don’t eat gluten or sugar don’t talk about it….until they’re interrogated as to why they’re not eating their cake.
People want details. They want proof. They want to learn more. Sometimes they want to catch you out.
As to whether quitting sugar has merits…you can catch up here and here.
As to whether gluten intolerances are valid, and to the issue of “why suddenly now”… well…I’m going to share facts. No evangelising.
what is gluten, and gluten intolerance?
Gluten’s a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut, and oats (to a lesser extent). Gluten sensitivity is an autoimmune disease that creates inflammation throughout the body, with wide-ranging effects across all organ systems.
A review paper in The New England Journal of Medicine listed 55 “diseases” that can be caused by eating gluten. including osteoporosis, irritable bowel disease, inflammatory bowel disease, anemia, cancer, fatigue, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and almost all other autoimmune diseases. Gluten is also linked to many psychiatric and neurological diseases, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, dementia, migraines, epilepsy, and neuropathy (nerve damage). It has also been linked to autism.
where does celiac disease fit in?
So we’re clear, celiac disease is a permanent intolerance to the gliadin part of gluten. It is genetic, and an inherited condition. Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition, where the body’s immune system starts attacking normal tissue, such as intestinal tissue, in response to eating gluten. This will continue as long as these food products are in the diet.
People with celiac disease are at risk for malabsorption of food, which cause nutritional deficiencies and may also result in conditions such as iron deficiency anemia, osteopenia, and osteoporosis. People with a gluten intolerance usually do not have as severe intestinal damage, and therefore are not at high risk for these nutritional deficiencies.
Recently a large study was done with gluten sensitive patients, and celiac disease patients, as well as a number of control subjects. All were subjected to a gluten challenge for four months, followed by a gluten-free diet.
The findings were:
- the anti-gliadin antibody status is different for gluten-sensitivity versus celiac disease.
- there’s no ‘leaky gut’ in gluten intolerant patients. This is specifically related to celiac disease.
- none of the gluten intolerant patients had anti-wheat antibodies. The response to gluten is quite different from an allergic reaction to wheat.
- in gluten-sensitive patients, gluten activates the ‘innate’ immune system – meaning that the protein is immediately recognised as foreign and toxic. Celiac disease involves activation of the ‘adaptive’ immune system, which initiates an autoimmune reaction.
- Gluten-sensitivity in the absence of celiac disease is a real phenomenon, and can be clearly distinguished at a molecular level.
- A gluten-free diet resulted in a relief from symptoms in gluten-sensitive patients within a few days, and this lasted for the whole 4 years of the study.