Of Placebos & Proteins
By Tom Baker
There is no doubt that celiac disease (CD), an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine, is pretty well beyond awful. It causes everything from diarrhea to stomach pain, constipation, anemia, fatigue, vitamin absorption problems and more. Triggered by gluten, a protein in wheat and some other grains, it essentially does a little dance in your bowels that results in an inflammatory reaction ranging from subtle to volcanic. Although people have known about CD for quite some time, sufferers are just now able to stroll into almost any random grocery store and find specialty foods that are gluten free. While any vegetarian over the age of 20 knows the joy associated with being able to do just that, the reasoning has less to do with CD awareness, and more to do with gluten abstinence having become part of a diet, supposedly healthy, and all the rage these last few seasons.
The National Institutes of Health Statistics show that about one percent of the population has CD, yet last year popular surveys have reflected that almost 30 percent of Americans were cutting back on gluten. While these sorts of trends come and go, going gluten free has also quickly become one of the most divisive biological topics in American history. This is undoubtedly in conjunction with a resurgence in pseudo-scientific medicine that has made it nearly impossible for the average person to find legitimate truth on the matter. Remember the phrase “you can’t trust anything on the Internet, because people can just say whatever the want?” Yeah, well… it’s true, now that those without an understanding of the scientific method, or any discernible research skills, outnumber everyone by about 50,000 to 1 (exaggeration? Maybe not.).
In a world constantly modifying itself for exponential increases in population, there’s no arguing that any move made to help people live healthier isn’t a good one. With that said, it seems prudent to straighten out a few of the more crooked points related to everyone’s favorite pariah protein. When it comes to our bodies, open minds certainly have their work cut out for them.
I Love You Like a Fat Kid Loves Gluten
The truth: people would line up and burn their savings to get shot by any sort of magic weight loss bullet. Thus the claim that going gluten free can shed pounds sounds especially enticing. While at first it makes sense that cutting out stuff like pizza and sweet, delicious, mouth-watering fudge brownies would have a bit of a slimming effect, it turns out to not be that simple.
According to dietitian Katherine Tallmadge, gluten-free diets are often deficient in niacin, thiamine, folate, iron, calcium, vitamin B12, zinc and phosphorus. Furthermore, highly processed gluten-free products are usually made with refined grains, which are low in nutrients and are often held together with oil, butter and eggs. Margaret Weiss, the clinical manager of the Kogan Celiac Center at Barnabas Health in New Jersey, says that these types of products have less fiber, vitamins and minerals – and more fat, calories and sugar, which can result in actually gaining weight.
Those with CD have no other choice and are therefore usually painfully aware of the complexities of living healthy without foods that contain gluten, but those adopting it as a diet for other reasons are typically doing so without the guidance of a doctor or dietician. As nutrition consultant and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Heather Mangieri said, the weight loss associated with going gluten free has everything to do with replacing junk food with more fruits and vegetables, as well as eating less due to more limited options, and nothing to do with the gluten itself. All of which, of course, can be done without having to jump through hoops in an attempt to combat the inherent nutritional problems of cutting out gluten.
Celiac vs. Gluten Sensitivity vs. Wheat Allergy vs… Wait, What?
Just to illustrate how uninformed the general populace is, the biggest topic of contention is undoubtedly the whole “celiac vs. non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) vs. wheat allergy” thing. Oh, and don’t forget everyone’s favorite brown horse in the race, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
First of all, there is a truly immense amount of research being done in this area. However, there is also still a lot of intrinsic murkiness as the result of a lack of biomarkers, or biological indicators, related to most of these conditions. Progress with the sorting out of what’s what is happening, but a “cure” for any of these conditions is likely far off.
1. NCGS is not simply a less severe version of CD. Those with NCGS suffer none of the severe, debilitating symptoms of CD. Not all CD patients have intense symptoms.
2. There is such a thing as a wheat allergy… and it has nothing to do with gluten whatsoever.
3. There is an overlap between IBS and NCGS, and both are present in much higher percentages of the population than CD (six times as much, give or take).
4. The link between gluten and certain neurological disabilities, such as Autism and Schizophrenia, is complex, varied and has either presented a lack of evidence in clinical trials (Schizophrenia), or has met with some positive, but inconsistent results (Autism). Gluten does not cause Autism or anything else, although evidence shows it can exacerbate neurological conditions (such as mood disorders) that may not have presented otherwise in those with CD.
5. Gluten is not the only player. More and more research points to FODMAPs (a type of carbohydrate that is poorly absorbed) as the true culprit for both IBS and NCGS. The possibility that NCGS has little or nothing to do with gluten is gaining traction.
7. This is just the beginning in regards to the clarifications that are readily available for subtopics that are constantly muddied up.
All of This is Giving Me An Irritable Bowel
Yes, this is a mess. And yes, it’s a lot more complex than this short primer. And most certainly, it’s a hell of a lot for a person to try and sort through when trying to make a decision as important as a major shift in diet. It can be incredibly difficult to sort through the muck when researching online – some websites and books (such as the popular Grain Brain, or Wheat Belly) bank on faulty gluten science, and while they may be able to offer a lot of black and white answers that are easy to digest, they do so without any real fact-checking or collaboration with other scientists. That’s not to say such sources are automatically full of bull spit, but it does make it that much more important that you remain vigilant and skeptical when seeking answers about your health. Does “naturalnews.com” sound safe? Lots of great information on how bad gluten is for you… run by Mike Adams, conspiracy theorist, anti-vaccination blowhard, aspartame anti-christ. He has made it onto many top anti-science website lists.
Make no mistake, this and many others are part of the information wars. Skepticism is not a dirty word: it’s your mind’s tool for separating information correctly into two piles: helpful and dookie.
All of the intensity of this topic aside, if you’ve got serious questions about how gluten may be affecting your body, absolutely get yourself informed and book a consultation with a local doctor or certified dietician. CD and related illnesses are real and you may have been suffering for years without even knowing it. Leapfrog those that put what they want to believe above your health and the gluten fog will clear right up.
Local RN Says No to Wheat… And Thinks All of Us Should, Too
By Dave DeLuca
Nadine Grzeskowiak, known around town as The Gluten Free RN, works as a private consultant and public speaker out of a small office under the Darkside Cinema. She teaches about the dangers of celiac disease and gluten in our diets. She is a registered nurse with a background in critical care, and she believes that no one should be eating wheat. But, we’ll come back to that.
As was explained above, Gluten is the protein in wheat, rye, barley and oats. It is also what gives bread its structure, strength and texture. Although it is found in food like pizza and pasta, it also hides in cosmetic products that contain wheat germ oil. Humans lack the enzymes to break down gluten protein. They either pass through us harmlessly or they don’t.
“Some people it just passes through and doesn’t cause any damage. Sometimes for their entire lives, for whatever reason… other people, especially people that are predisposed… are more susceptible to a trigger event which will lead to inflammation and the auto immune component, which is Celiac Disease proper” said Grzeskowiak.
Grzeskowiak has studied celiac disease since 2006, when she learned first-hand how difficult a diagnosis can be.
“I was diagnosed in October 2006, but my blood and skin biopsy tests came back negative.”
She explained that the first test for celiac is usually a blood panel and said that it often returns false negative results. More sophisticated tests combine results from blood, stool, skin and genetic panels.
“I had already gone immediately on a GF (gluten free) diet as instructed and began to feel better. My doctor told me I don’t have celiac disease. [That] there’s no point in being on a gluten free diet. [But] Because I felt so much better on a gluten free diet, I stayed on it. Within four months I got my brain back. I no longer had multi-system organ failure. My body was getting better.”
Finding limited resources at the time, she contacted celiac centers all across the country requesting information. She lived a gluten-free lifestyle while her knowledge of the science of celiac grew. Amassing a large library of books, journals and articles on the subject, she began helping people with celiac and gluten intolerance. Having started Gluten Free RN in March of 2007, she has since attended multiple international symposiums and given over 1,000 lectures on gluten and associated issues.
Those affected by gluten have increased permeability of the intestinal wall. It gives them what’s commonly known as a leaky gut. While celiac is largely thought of as a gastrointestinal problem, these “leaks” can allow gluten proteins (and other things) to enter the bloodstream, which can cause an immune response.
“Once it’s [sic] in your bloodstream, those proteins will wreak havoc on every organ in your body.” Grzeskowiak stated.
“Only 28% of the people that present with celiac disease have GI issues. Depending on what study you look at, 71-76% have neurological issues.”
It should be noted that studies published in the US Library of Medicine suggest that it is currently unknown how exactly this link is made. All current evidence points to a variety of connections, not just a simple cause by way of gluten consumption.
Grzeskowiak personally believes that a long list of psychological conditions can be traced back to celiac-related brain damage, including depression, night terrors, schizophrenia and even Alzheimer’s disease. The running hypothesis behind that is that gluten protein in the blood contributes to a leaky blood-brain barrier.
Additionally, Grzeskowiak says that there are plenty of other conditions and diseases that are possibly related to celiac. These include, but are not limited to, chronic anemia, migraine headaches, neuropathy, eczema, psoriasis, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, arthritis and lymphoma. Scared yet? There’s more. She also sees connections to Turner’s syndrome, Down syndrome, type 1 diabetes, arthritis, lupus, MS and ADHD.
While Grzeskowiak has collected plenty of material that backs up her beliefs, she admits that there are plenty of medical professionals who are hesitant to draw the same conclusions she has.
The Gluten Free RN does suggest you do your own research and then go see her. Learn more at www.glutenfreern.com.